In 1999 Project Lead The Way introduced its senior capstone design course with a deep dive into the design process as its focus. It became clear after only a few years of implementation that the course and others like it from a number of other curriculum efforts were striking the right notes with university faculty and the emerging STEM education conversation. Problem solving, concept integration, creativity and the application of knowledge toward an attempt to address a real world problem are each an integral part of every design and problem solving process model and have become cornerstones in STEM education efforts. The results of this work, generally in the form of papers, portfolios and presentations however, posed a problem when trying to review and compare and contrast these works on a large scale.
The idea for the Innovation Portal began early in 2010 after interviewing dozens of post-secondary admissions officers, professors, and industry representatives about why the original problem solving portfolio work being done by all of these students was valued, but not being widely recognized by industry education outreach efforts or considered for review in the university admission process. Their answer outlined two distinct but related obstacles that became the foundation for the Innovation Portal. The group replied that:
"...Without a systematic process for reviewing original student design work there is no way to incorporate the value of the work into the algorithm of college admissions or any other recognition process. Without a standardized assessment tool to organize and evaluate any submitted work there can be no systematic process.” What was needed was a well-structured and validated assessment rubric centered on the design process itself coupled with a secure means for students to build portfolios and connect their work to potential reviewers."
The first obstacle involved the fact that there exists a wide number of variations of the design process model used in engineering, most of which had never been transformed into a detailed guide and assessment tool for education purposes. (The rubric used by PLTW capstone students was developed from those authored internally by their university partners and master teachers and was used as a starting point for what has become the EDPPSR) Many researchers around the country interested in engineering education were grappling with these concerns as well. Dr. Leigh Abts of the University of Maryland had been focusing his efforts on ways to improve the engineering pipeline from K-12 to post-secondary for over a decade and was already working toward a means of reviewing the portfolio work of students. PLTW had an interest in building an online tool to support problem solving efforts for all students but lacked a national design process rubric to build into its system. Dr. Abts and his team had an interest in building a national rubric but would need both a tool to put the rubric work in the hands of students and teachers. The strength of the Innovation Portal lies in the partnership and continued interaction of these two efforts. With Dr. Abts’ leadership, NSF funding was applied for and granted to develop and validate an assessment rubric for the engineering design process. In December of 2010 his team lead by Dr. Gail Goldberg, a noted assessment specialist, synthesized the input of dozens of K-12, university and industry representatives into a document entitled the “Engineering Design Process Portfolio Scoring Rubric” or EDPPSR. That document will be the central focus of a three year university study to validate and refine the work into a reliable assessment tool for wide spread use in the engineering education community.
The second and interrelated obstacle involved the need for a centralized hub where all K-16 students and teachers could connect to one another and work in a password secure environment to build detailed portfolios of their projects and then when ready, enter them in a range of possible opportunities all focused around a single template for the design process. With this online approach and standardized format for submission of student work, the possibilities to connect these works to any number of organizations and institutions interested in original problem solving and design efforts is wide open.