The Good Products, Bad Products course at Stanford (ME 314) uses the Stanford course management system CourseWork, now an open source release shared with other schools. Stanford is now involved in the Sakai project, so that CourseWork 3.0 will no longer be available, but comparable software will be through the Sakai project. For information on the Sakai project, click here.
In brief, CourseWork allows easy communication over the internet between students and instructors. One feature of it is a discussion forum, in which student work can be submitted to the instructor and comments/grades/etc. from the instructor submitted to the student. The work can also be made available to the other students.
David Beach, who now teaches the course, brings in many guest speakers who are involved in the design, development, and marketing of high quality products. He also assigns my Good Products, Bad Products book, and has the students do the thought problems at the end of the chapters and submit written answers. There is some discussion of the book in class, but also many other activities that require class time. Also the class is large (100 + students) and many of the students are off-campus taking the course over the internet. Discussion is extremely helpful in attempting to better understand product quality, so how can he assure feedback to the students and promote discussion outside of class?
The on-campus students are divided into groups of four, and at the end of the quarter each group is asked to give a presentation centered around a company doing a particularly good job of achieving one of the components of high quality contained in my book. Dave is a fanatic on presentation quality that includes efficient use of media, so he is able to limit each presentation to ten minutes, plus five minutes for questions. The presentations are typically very good indeed.
This year the groups were asked to review the individual student submissions to the thought problems in the book that pertain to the category of their final presentation, give those students feedback on CourseWork (open to all), and select the ones they believed to be the best. This year there were four groups giving presentations on each chapter, so the results of this "pick the best ones" exercise provided potential additional information for assigning final grades in the course. The groups are thinking about their presentation, so they have a certain amount of "expertise" on the topic, and the individual student submissions help the groups think about their final presentation as well as resulting in more feedback. In addition, there are general comments by the students on each other’s submissions. All of this added to more discussion outside of class.
This was the first time this approach to encouraging outside discussion and evaluation between the students was used , and I thought it worked quite well, and with a few changes will work even better in the future. There will supposedly be new “CourseWork” type software available next year that will be similar, but improved. I am hoping for the similarity, because one problem I find with much computer software is that as soon as one learns to use it well, it changes, often by adding new features that add to its complexity and make it more difficult for new users.