Scaffolding Knowledge Integration through
Designing Multimedia Case Studies of
Science & Mathematics Education Group
4533 Tolman Hall
University of California at Berkeley, CA 94720
Alice M. Agogino
Department of Mechanical Engineering
5136 Etcheverry Hall
University of California at Berkeley, CA 94720
Submitted for review for presentation at FIE'95 (IEEE/ASEE Frontiers in Engineering Education)
This paper describes our experiences teaching a freshman design course ME39C using multimedia case
studies of engineering design, multimedia tools, and the Internet. Students, in mixed-ability groups,
learn design process and practice through reviewing engineering cases on CD-ROM, and using software
tools to develop a multimedia case of their own. The curriculum, although having theoretical bases in
education research, is highly governed by practical concerns such as rapidly changing technologies,
different background experiences of students, and the grading of open-ended work. The course is also
driven by new developments in technology and the changing demands of students. In three years, a five
person seminar course has evolved into a laboratory of thirty, changing the nature of learning, teaching
style, and quality of student work in both positive and negative ways. We describe this course as it
progressed from an experimental course to an institutionalized one. Our experiences confirm our belief
that curricula should be designed to promote scaffolded knowledge integration by encouraging students
to become more autonomous learners while capitalizing on collaboration and social aspects of learning.
Moreover, curricula should be continuously refined and updated to meet the needs of students and
reflect advances in technological development toward better preparation in engineering.
Purpose of ME39C
As part of a campus-wide effort at the University of California at Berkeley, several engineering seminars
were created to better inform first year students about engineering practice through 1-2 unit electives.
ME39C was one such course designed to teach best practices and principles in engineering design
through multimedia case studies. These multimedia cases on CD-ROM illustrate exemplary design
practices (e.g. design for manufacture, multifunctional teams, etc.) as well as the social context and
environmental impact of these designs such as mechatronic products, toys, and vehicles [Hsi &
Agogino, 1994; Carlstrom, 1993; Evans, 1993].
The creation of this course was originally sponsored by Synthesis, an NSF Engineering Education
Coalition, whose goals are to reform engineering curricula by improving students in the following areas:
1) multidisciplinary, open ended problem solving, 2) industry practice, 3) experimental design and
hands-on work, 4) multimedia delivery and communication, and 5) collaboration and team work.
As instructors, we hoped to create an engineering course that: 1) promotes student interest in
engineering by demonstrating industrial relevance and engineering practice through multimedia, 2)
builds students' research, team work, and communication skills, and 3) engages students in creativity,
design process, and active thinking. Moreover, we hoped to provide a small cooperative environment for
first year students with a high teacher-to-student ratio contrary to mostly large lectures courses in the
first two years.
In the process of creating curricula to meet our objectives, we found the scaffolded knowledge
integration framework (SKI) and collaborative learning theories useful as a pedagogical foundation for
designing instruction [Linn].
The SKI framework
The scaffolded knowledge integration framework guided the design of our instruction. A key feature of
the scaffolded knowledge integration framework is to select goals that build on student intuitions,
encourage knowledge integration, and foster life long learning as a continuous process. This approach
advocates instruction and integration activities that build on students everyday experiences, encourage
autonomous learning, and provide social supports as needed. Another feature of the SKI approach to
learning emphasizes the diversity of methods and repertoire of strategies toward learning rather than
assuming that there is a single right answer or a single best path for solving a problem.
While the SKI framework advocates that students learn to be independent and autonomous, this
approach also recognizes that students need guidance to make thinking visible and explicit. Similar to
cognitive apprenticeships, learners first observe the activity of more expert individuals who struggle
with problems, demonstrate problem solving processes, and explain their thinking, before practicing this
new knowledge in a similar setting [Brown, Collins, & Duguid].
Learning to learn from others or collaborative learning has shown positive results for solving problems,
accomplishing work, and sharing ideas in a group. In a collaborative learning environment, peers can
help scaffold understanding, contribute to the groups' expertise, and distribute responsibility for learning
and remembering knowledge (Palinscar and Brown, 1984;). Peers are also more likely to help another
peer in comprehension since they are having the same difficulties. In collaborative learning
environments, instructors are not expected to know the "right" answer, nor serve as the sole authority on
knowledge, but seen as a facilitator in the knowledge construction process.
Implementation of the SKI framework in ME39C
As part of the scaffolding effort, several hands-on workshops (e.g. multimedia capture and editing,
hypertext authoring, communicating through electronic mail and the World Wide Web) were conducted
throughout the semester where students could learn or practice new skills. Because the course was held
in a computer laboratory where overhead projection linked to a computer could be used for
demonstration, students could first observe how computer and multimedia tools were used, then practice
and test their understanding with the help of a peer. Another way students were scaffolded was to show
students previous students' case studies, and finished multimedia cases studies as exemplars. The
instructors also actively talked about their own design process and planning when previously designing
a multimedia case.
We encouraged students to build on their design intuitions, prior experiences in computers, and interests
in engineering, as well as provided opportunities for students to express their viewpoint. Students were
told they did not need prior computer experience, only an interest in engineering or technology.
Because students had various backgrounds, we hoped to encourage interaction between less experienced
students with more experienced students. In our course, we wanted to capitalize on the fact that there
were individuals with different areas of expertise and encourage knowledge sharing instead of
competition. This was reflected in grading to include peer assessment of work and cooperation. Students
were highly encouraged to work in pairs or small groups and share information. Part of the motivation
was to sensitize engineering students to the social aspects of teaming and to prepare them for work in
multifunctional teams in industry.
Toward Institutionalize a Multimedia Course in Engineering
In the Fall of 1992 and 1993, the class initially attracted 5 and 7 students respectively. Instruction was
more informal and similar to tutoring in groups. Students first viewed several multimedia cases
including the Proprinter and Human Powered Vehicle Case, then worked on constructing parts of a an
existing case on bicycle dissection. Student researched and collected their own content, then used tools
such as HyperCard(TM) or Toolbook(TM), a video camera, and a flatbed scanner to incorporate them
into a multimedia case. Grades were assigned based on participation, quality of work, and a final
presentation given to faculty and friends.
Two years later, over 70 students wanted to enroll in our course. This might be reflection of the interests
of students toward computers and multimedia or students knowing what they need to succeed as future
engineering students. Students working in pairs or groups were responsible for learning electronic mail,
building a home page on the World Wide Web, and designing a multimedia case of at least 10 screens
(see example in Figure 1). (Note: A syllabus and samples of student work are available on the World
Wide Web at URL: http://synthesis6.me.berkeley.edu/ME39C/
Larger course size introduced many challenges for instruction. The coordination of multimedia
equipment such as cameras, CD-ROM drives, and computer failures were problematic. Multiple
instructors and teaching assistants were recruited in an effort to maintain a high teacher-to-student ratio.
One co-instructor was an upper division undergraduate student who wanted to enroll in the course, but
was disappointed to find that it was limited to lower division students. Team teaching meant scheduling
more planning meetings for instructors. A formal grading procedure was needed to assess student work.
With multiple open-ended projects to assess at the end of the semester, alternative assessment methods
had to be designed such as recruiting a panel of volunteers from multimedia industry, instructional
designers, and engineering professionals to grade final presentations. Students were also responsible for
writing self evaluations as well as rating peers in their group.
Evaluation of Instruction and Curricula/ Evaluating Success of
Because ME39C was an evolving experimental course, several methods were used to assess the course
and student comments: an electronic discussion tool called the Multimedia Forum Kiosk [Hsi &
Hoadley, 1995], pre and post paper questionnaires, focus group interviews, and 3x5 cards where
students were asked to anonymously write the likes and dislikes of the course. The comments collected
the first two semesters reflected the success of the small atmosphere, and teamwork issues.
I think working in a small group environment where a professor is available is valuable for any student,
especially freshman. [ME39] is a refreshing change when compared to [large freshman classes]. The
biggest difference is [ME39] is fun. I feel working in this environment has given me a inquisitive outlook
towards engineering that I have been able to take back to my other classes. My experiences in [ME39]
have made me a better student in all my classes.
However, when the course grew to 30 students, students had these mixed comments where
collaborative, scaffolded model of learning approaches seemed to work for some.
"Things seemed kind of disorganized."
"Too many students" "Each person gets less attention."
"Before, I thought that the instructors were too ambiguous, and that I was left on my own to work, but
when I asked people to help me, it was all made clear".
"Working with different levels of users."
"Being able to use our own ideas".
"Didn't assume we were all computer prodigies."
"I like the freedom we have to explore..."
In general, students were excited about learning because of the technology and the freedom to explore
an engineering topic of their choice. Students also felt the course provided valuable experience with
technology not found elsewhere in the curricula and contributed to their engineering preparation. This
student essay describing the qualities of a future engineer reflects her understanding of multifunctional
teams, and the importance of working in multidisplinary teams. She "teamed" with an engineering
student to produce the case study illustrated in Fig. 1.
The Future Engineer. . .
As a student outside the College of Engineering, my insight into the future of engineering is limited. I do
know that an engineer of the future will have to be more people-oriented in design and be able to
communicate well with others.
In a field where one must design and manufacture structures, machines, and systems, math and science
are obviously stressed. While the function of a product or system plays a key role in the design, it should
not be the sole purpose. Design should always have people in mind....As an architecture major, I
envision myself working with engineers, particularly civil engineers. My job would be made easier with
engineers that communicate (which is a two-way street) well. I hope engineers realize that structure and
support are not the only components in a building. People and how they feel about a place, interact with
others, and function within a setting must be considered.
With all the complexities and people involved in the design of a building (civil engineers and builders,
rules and regulations of structures) a client's needs and wants may be lost in the shuffle; being the
client's voice, the channel in which her or his needs are implemented is a major duty of an architect. I
see the future engineers improving in what architects specialize: designing with people's needs as a
forefront and communicating well with a variety of people.
In an essay assignment, one female student in the class writes about the value of early exposure to
Do I like Mechanical Engineering? Well, tell you the truth, I am not sure yet. The
classes I have taken at Berkeley so far have been basic science classes that do not
specifically talk about Mechanical Engineering. I only know that I like picking up
things or just looking at things around me and try to figure out how they work.
While admiring the innovative application of technologies and clever designs, I
also wonder if there are any disadvantages about it and ways to be more efficient.
This ME 39C seminar really interested me. Before taking this class, I had the
stereotypical impression that mechanical engineers only work at machine shops
dealing with hard, cold, and gigantic equipment. I never knew that the world now
is so different from how it was a few years ago. The exchange of information
today is instant and global. Multimedia has a very high potential for further
development, and this can be part of the Mechanical Engineering discipline!
Figure 1: Student work from ME39C: A Multimedia Case of a Building Design
In summary, an experimental engineering course based on the scaffolded knowledge integration
framework was designed and institutionalized. Curricula emphasized student construction of
understanding through developing a multimedia case, computer literacy, and teamwork. Scaling-up from
a small collaborative computer-based learning environment to a class of thirty posed challenges. As the
course grew in size, we strived to maintain the objectives of a friendly, cooperative environment. The
use of graduate and upper division undergraduate student co-instructors allowed us to scale up the size
of the class while still maintaining much of the intimate qualities of the smaller class.
Based on a range of assessment instruments, we found that students were learning teamwork skills and
engineering practices, both through viewing case studies as well as through their own experiences in a
hands-on environment. Case studies development was an excellent way to introduce students to
engineering concepts and the design process.
The authors gratefully acknowledge our co-instructors for the Fall 1994 offering of the Multimedia Case
Studies of Engineering Design course at UC Berkeley, Brandon Muramatsu and Jennifer Moriarty. All
co-instructors provided mentoring and instruction. In addition, Brandon led the PC courseware
instruction and Jennifer the HTML authoring.
1 Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning,"
Educational Researcher, (18), 32-42, 1989
2 Brown, A. L. and Palinscar, A.S. Guided, cooperative learning and individual knowledge acquisition.
In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, Learning, and Instruction (pp. 393-451). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.
3 Carlstrom, C. M. "Development, Testing and Assessment of the Cyclone Grinder Multimedia Case
Study," MS Project Report, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California at
Berkeley, Oct. 11, 1993.
4 Evans, J. "Multimedia Case Studies for Teaching Best Design Practices," MS Project Report,
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, 1992
5 Hsi, S. and Agogino, A., "The Impact and Instructional Benefit of Using Multimedia Case Studies to
Teach Engineering Design" Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 3 (3/4), 351-376, 1994
6 Hsi, S. and Hoadley, C. M. "On-line Assessment of Curricula using the Multimedia Forum Kiosk"
paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Researcher Association, San
Francisco, April, 1995 (available from authors)
7 Harel, I., and Papert, S. "Software Design as a Learning Environment." Interactive Learning
Environments; 1(1):1-32, 1990
9 Linn, M. C. "Designing Computer Environments for Engineering and Computer Science: The
Scaffolded Knowledge Integration Framework, Journal of Science Education and Technology, Vol. 4,
No. 2, 1995.