Creating opportunities for students to engage deeply with “real-world” problems has long been recognized as a high-impact teaching practice. In EECS 481, the innovation lies in the web of relationships that connect undergraduates in the capstone software engineering course with a child (identified by CS Mott Children’s Hospital) who could benefit from assistive technologies.
Students learn about a specific disability selected for the semester from clinical faculty and through interaction with the child and family. After an overview of cutting-edge technologies, each student writes a one-page proposal for developing software that aims to improve quality of life for a cognitively or physically impaired audience. After experts select the best proposals, the student creators “pitch” to the rest of the class to recruit 3-4 teammates. Teams develop, document, and celebrate three product releases in a “tradeshow floor” format over the course of the semester. In addition to hard technical skills, students also figure out soft skills, especially how to work effectively as a team and manage their time.
Not only have course enrollments grown substantially since 2009 (table below), but women are participating at twice the national average for computer science courses (25-30% vs. 10-15%).