Innovative Pedagogy Interview Series

A Conversation with Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Dr. Odesma Dalrymple


This past Fall Dr. Dalrymple incorporated a new student project in her Globalization LLC course - A Chain Reaction Machine Challenge. I sat down recently with Dr. Dalrymple to discuss teaching and learning in today's global economy, the engineering major and profession generally, and about her innovative student project specifically. 

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions about your project with me, Odesma. Could you share some information about yourself? Where did you receive your education, which classes do you teach, and what are some of your general interests in teaching and in research?

Thank you for inviting me to this interview. I am an engineering education scholar by training. I attained a PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University, and a MEng. in Industrial Engineering and a BS in Electrical Engineering, both from Morgan State University.

I conduct research on tools and techniques that can be readily applied in real engineering learning environments to improve student learning and teaching. In this respect I pursue three main lines of research: The first looks at artifact-inspired discovery–based pedagogy, i.e., learning activities where students’ exploration of STEM knowledge is self-directed and motivated by interactions or manipulations of artifacts. The second looks at the development of faculty expertise in outcomes-based course design through the use of the Instructional Module Development system (imods), a self-guided web-based training tool (still under development). The third, which is both the most recent and now the most significant, looks at the development of engineering thinking in 6th – 12th grade science teachers, and the translation of that thinking in their teaching.

You are also the co-founder of the STEAM Labs™ program, could you tell me about that program?

Certainly. The STEAM Labs™ program is an outreach initiative that challenges teams of participants to learn and apply the engineering design process to build chain-reaction machines in a project-based environment that can span one or more sites connected through the Internet. The program teaches participants real-world engineering skills, provides experience with systems thinking and multi-team collaboration, and creates a pathway for participants to master 21st Century competencies and better understand careers in engineering, and other science, technology and math fields.

This program has been successfully deployed in formal and informal education settings with 1700+ middle and high school students across 18 U.S. sites, 1 site in Trinidad and Tobago and 1 in Tijuana Mexico. A total of 600 teachers have also been trained to implement aspects of this program through various workshops.

Wow! That seems like quite the undertaking. Congratulations on the success of your work. Let’s switch gears a little here - Could you share with me more about engineering in general and the USD Engineering 101 course?

The Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology defines engineering as a profession in which knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgement to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind.

USD’s ENGR 101 – Introduction to Engineering course is designed to be the first semester, first year course that introduces students to the field of engineering. For many of the assignments students are required to work in small teams to solve a variety of open-ended interdisciplinary design problems. Some of the professional and technical skills that students learn or practice through this course are: computer aided design (CAD), concept generation, analysis, modeling, construction, testing, development, and documentation.

You also teach a preceptorial ENGR 101 courses within the Globalization Living Learning Community (LLC). How does this LLC focused on globalization fit with the engineering major and your course?

Engineering, like many other professions, has had to evolve in response to globalization. Many of the problems that engineers are called to address span multiple geographical locations with varied resources, cultures and needs. It is important for students who are training to be future engineers to understand the role globalization plays in the profession, and the work they may be called to do.

For instance:

Given that engineering seeks to find solutions that address the needs of people, engineers must be able to develop empathy for users. A solution may not solve the same need for different populations. Engineers need to also take into consideration the social and cultural needs or norms of users when identifying and developing innovations that work.

Another aspect of globalization that students may encounter in their professional lives is the need to work on geographically distributed teams. Students may not always have the benefit of working face-to-face with team members or clients. In addition, their team members or clients may be from different cultures. Students need to be able to effectively use the tools that facilitate virtual communication while establishing trust, confidence and respect with their remote collaborators.

How is being a preceptorial professor in engineering different from teaching another course in Engineering?

As a preceptorial professor there is an additional challenge of incorporating a curricular experience that ties in with the theme of the LLC, and the added responsibility of serving as an academic advisor for all the students in the course.

One of the innovative pedagogies you utilize in your introduction course is having your students participate in a Chain Reaction Machine Challenge. Could you tell me more about the challenge and how it works?

The challenge is a design project based around solving a simple problem with a chain reaction machine. A chain reaction machine is a machine consisting of a sequence of steps where each step is a result of the one proceeding and the cause of the one following. With USD focusing on the major theme of water across campus, I instructed my students to design a complex machine that will fill a vessel with water in an elaborate way.

I divided my class into two clusters, with each cluster comprising of four teams of three students. Each team was responsible for building a chain reaction module that must connect with the other modules within the cluster to produce a chain reaction machine with a minimum of twelve steps. Further, the machines from both clusters must connect so the last step of one will trigger the start of the other.

Both clusters were also responsible for telling a story with each of their machines, one about water conflict and the other about water cooperation.

On the construction day, each cluster of students found out that they would be building the designs created by the other cluster. Each cluster was situated on different floors of Loma and was only allowed to communicate with each other utilizing virtual telecommunication tools. This aspect of the activity was done to simulate the experience of working on geographically distributed teams, an aspect of global engineering.

How did the teams do during the final presentation? Did both machines work?

There was 1 week dedicated to the pre-construction phases of the design of the machines, and then the construction and post-construction of the machines occurred on one final day. Both machines did not quite work as expected. However, this wasn’t the primary goal of the project – the process experienced was.

The project was designed to exposes my students to the complexity of systems and the interconnected challenges within these systems. Additionally, this project exposed my students to the dynamics of working within a geographically distributed team to achieve a common goal. This project is an iterative practice full of opportunities for teachable moments within various contexts – engineering design, team dynamics, inter-communication skills, design presentation, etc.

Do you have any advice for other faculty who are looking to incorporate innovative pedagogy or large group projects into their courses?

Just to be considerate of time. It will take much more time to plan out the semester and make sure everything aligns correctly. Also keep in mind that time is fleeting, and everyone always wishes they had more of it as the semester moves into full swing. Also, enjoy the experience. Don’t get caught up in whether or not the final product of any project is the best it could be. Remember that the experience and exposure to iterative practices is where true teaching and learning occurs, and that experience is where the true value lies.

Thank you so much for taking your time to meet with me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you and your work so profoundly. The CEE and I wish you the very best as the semester comes to a close!

-Johnny Bobe II