Senior Design: More Than A Class

By: Kirsi

Kirsi holding the field operator's sensor.
Me holding the field operator’s sensor.
Pointing a stealth camera at a circuit.

I didn’t want to take senior design (SD). I tried to get out of it two times. I have completed plenty of technical paid internships since high school. Why do I have to take SD? What do I possibly have left to learn?

Image: programming code on a computer screen
Text: Skills learned in senior design

With a closed mind opened, I was ecstatic to find SD was exactly what I hoped college would be when I applied six years ago. Our SD team competed in the Air Force Research Lab Design Challenge. We built a two user system that helps first responders navigate Amber Alerts, rubble searches, and active threats. Our system can identify objects of interest through cinder block, drywall, multiple rooms, and car trunks. You can watch a demo video of the system, all built at UMD by students! SD has been a huge opportunity for me to grow my soft and technical skills.

Display screen of the system showing data from four sensors
Display of the system showing data from our four sensors.

What You Will Learn In Senior Design:
A major experience missed by only interning in the professional world is being challenged improve communication techniques. In an internship you learn the ropes of reporting achievements, asking questions, and forming a consistent path of communication. This is more procedure than an art. Management, mentors, and peers who you interface with at internships are usually seasoned leaders and communicators. Student peers? Sometimes, not so much. To no fault of their own. Raw inexperience. This required compensation I did not expect and revealed major communication flaws I have.

Being a leader means self-drive, delegating tasks to others, and people wrangling. Part of leadership on a SD team simply comes from being there for many hours, being there when things happened, something that couldn’t be scheduled. Because of my time commitment, people asked me details about the project and next steps. Ultimately, I started delegating and prioritizing tasks due to this informal leadership promotion.

It was a bit challenging to look past how someone was communicating, shed emotional charge, and focus on what the concern or question was. I had to learn to look past communication styles, meet peers where they were, and come up with a way to move forward. This required me to make sure my concerns or points did not come with any baggage.

Team giving a presenation
Our team presenting at the competition.

What is the point of making something cool if its importance can’t be described? I had to learn how to communicate our accomplishments to operators who may use our equipment in the future. I looked over and presented materials and made sure we were using understandable language.

The system we were building was for first responders, therefore, we met with law enforcement from the community for design and usability feedback. We met with police officers to attend SWAT training to understand how they would be responding to threats and what their priorities were. Throughout development, we invited first responders to our labs, put our devices in their hands to use, and asked for feedback on how to make things more user friendly. Additionally, I met with a graphic design major to make sure that data was clearly presented to operators.

I am excited to report to that our SD team won the competition bringing the gold home to UMD! I am honored to be a part of this team and thankful to have such a positive experience! I highly recommend making the most of your senior design!

Of Possible Interest:
Building Your Resume – all our blog posts on the topic
Boost Your Career in College – our Pinterest board filled with articles & resources

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Photo Source: Kirsi & Unsplash | Markus Spiske

Educational Computing & Technology Certificate at UMD

By: Whitney

There are many certificates that someone can get that will help him or her to get a leg up in the teaching field. One of the certificates that is offered at UMD is the Educational Computing & Technology Certificate. This certificate is composed of four, four-credit classes that teach you how to use technology in the classroom and for administrative tasks.

Technology is becoming more and more important to school districts hiring new teachers. They need teachers who can keep up with the students who they are teaching. By getting this certificate, you will have a great certificate to add to your resume, and you also have a great amount of knowledge that can help you to be more efficient in the classroom.

Since the courses are only offered certain times of the year, I have found it very helpful you don’t have to take the courses in any particular order. The only exception to this is the first course in the series, as it is a prerequisite for the other courses. While it is nice you can take the courses in any order, you can plan your schedule to take the classes in order by course number. This could be very beneficial since many of the professors assume you have taken the previous classes. Since the courses are only offered during certain semesters, you really have to pay attention to when the courses are offered so you have time to fit everything into your schedule.

The first course in the certificate is EDUC 2000: Technology for Teaching and Learning or EDUC 5412: The Computer in Education. Either of these classes can count for completing the certificate even though they each have a slightly different focus. The Technology for Teaching and Learning course has a focus for working with elementary age students. This course teaches you to use tablets, SMART Boards, and other tools such as Excel and Prezi to enhance lessons in the elementary classroom. This course is offered in the spring and fall every year. The Computer in Education course has a focus on various operating platforms and teaches students how to use basic software used by teachers in the field. This course also teaches various tools to be used to enhance lessons. This course is offered in the fall, spring, and summer every year.

The next course is EDUC 5413: Teaching with Technology. This course is offered in the fall, spring, and summer every year. This course looks at more tools for teaching and assessing the effectiveness of using technology for various lessons and looking for the most appropriate tools to use with lessons. You will also learn about topics such as universal design for learning, teaching digital citizenship, SAMR Model, and ISTE-T standards.

The third class of the certificate (if you are taking them in order) is EDUC 5414: Using Technology for the Administrative Task of Teaching. This course is offered only in the fall of each school year. This course focuses on the background knowledge needed for various tasks of teaching with technology. The course discusses various technology conferences, assistive technology, and what it takes to be on a technology committee, and what tasks are involved with being the technology director at a school. This course also looks at how to write grants asking for technology and designing a 21st century classroom.

The final course is EDUC 5415: Teaching Online and Hybrid Courses. This courses covers topics such as copyright, free use, instructional design, and creating learning activities in regards to teaching classes that are either completely online or are partially online and partially face-to-face (hybrid courses). You also have the opportunity to design your own online course using the university online system. This course is offered only periodically in the spring.

I have found that the courses in this series have been very useful in my teaching experiences while I am in the field. This semester I have the opportunity to integrate a lot of what I have learned into my classroom because there is so much technology available to the students. The classroom has a SMART Board and the students each have their own iPad. In a world where technology is on the rise, education administrators are looking to hire teachers who know about technology and who want to incorporate it into their classrooms. This certificate is an excellent add-on to any teaching degree to give you more knowledge about the technology used in classrooms and how to effectively incorporate technology into the classroom.

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Tips for Selecting Electives

By: David

Choosing classes may be a stressful time for most, but it may also be an exciting time! There is so much to choose from, but we are only limited to taking a few. So what happens when you need the filler classes to fill in your required amount of credits? You have electives to choose from! What kind of electives should you pick? I’m no advisor or anything, but here are some of my tips for choosing electives.

1) Selecting electives within your major.

The first tip I would recommend is selecting electives within your major. Even though you may already have other classes required for your intended major it’s always nice to take other classes within the field to learn more. Once you’ve become dedicated and passionate enough about your major, it helps to have these electives picked out so you can absorb as much information as you can for your career in the future.  As a Communication major I absolutely love the classes that are offered here. I took “Intercultural Communication” my first semester here as a freshman and that influenced me to go into  the Communication field.

2) Selecting electives outside your major. 

If you don’t want to pick electives within your major, you can select electives outside of your major! I highly recommend this option because it allows you to broaden your knowledge in other areas depending on what you choose to know. By selecting electives in other areas, it gives you a better understanding of a certain topic and that can come in handy someday. Last semester I took General Psychology even though I had already fulfilled the liberal education requirement and I loved it! Coming into this semester I’m currently debating if I should double major in Psychology (with Communication) because it’s an area that I’ve always loved learning about and has caught my attention.

3) Selecting electives to boost your GPA.

Electives are a great to boost your overall GPA as well. You may be wondering, “How do I know what class to choose?” The trick lies in choosing classes via professor or friend recommendations. First, if you know that a certain professor is teaching a class and you have a really strong connection or just think that the professor is awesome, then by all means take the class! Secondly, if a friend has taken a certain class before feel free to ask them about it. Maybe you could even look at the syllabus and learn more. Also, if a friend recommends you to take a certain class then you should look more into it. From my experience, I’m currently taking Ethics & Society right now because a friend recommended that I take it, and I love it!

In the end, there is an endless selection of electives to choose from. We all have our own preferences when selecting classes, but it doesn’t mean that we should stop learning. Learning more about your major is a great way to boost your knowledge for the future and will be very helpful for your future career. On the other hand, it also is useful to learn about other areas and see the world through a different lens. For example, as a Communication major I really enjoy taking classes within the Arts as well because I find it interesting and it allows me to see the world in a creative way. Lastly, selecting classes to boost your GPA isn’t a bad thing. As students, we all want to have an outstanding GPA and it’s crucial to have one depending on your plans after college.

I just want to leave off by saying that no matter what classes you decide to choose from feel free to always be curious and always take the initiative to learn something new every day because in the end knowledge is the key to success.

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