Dartmouth College/Ashesi University College Design Engineering Project (Summer 2017)

Dartmouth Lead: Kofi Odame, Associate Professor of Engineering

Background
The objective of the proposed work is to crystallise the relationship between Dartmouth College and Ashesi University College around a concrete, collaborative design project. Both universities share an uncommon approach to engineering education, presenting it as part of a broad, liberal-arts experience. By participating in an undergraduate engineering project that is of mutual interest to faculty in both universities, the hope is to strengthen the institutional linkages between Dartmouth College and Ashesi University College.

 Overview
The specific engineering project that we will tackle is a solution to aid in the diagnosis of pneumonia by health workers in low-resource settings.

Pneumonia is the single deadliest infectious disease of children under age 5, disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest regions. Early detection and treatment of pneumonia are critical to saving lives, but the gold-standard for pneumonia diagnoses requires biomedical imaging and laboratory testing facilities. These are often not an option in low-resource settings.

To address this problem, UNICEF and WHO have recommended that community health workers diagnose pneumonia based on the presence of clinical symptoms: a cough, fever, and elevated respiratory rate. Unfortunately, these diagnoses are highly subjective, leaving some pneumonia sufferers untreated, while other children are unnecessarily placed on a course of medication.

We propose to apply design thinking and electrical engineering tools to develop a solution that provides community health workers with an objective assessment of the clinical symptoms of pneumonia.

Project Details

  1. Preparation:

Before the start of the 10-week project, Ashesi and Dartmouth teams will identify and commit resources (funding, laboratory space and equipment, materials, IT and classroom infrastructure, student researchers, faculty time, support staff) needed for the project.

  1. Execution:

Week 1: The Dartmouth-Ashesi student team will participate in several brainstorming sessions to establish the scope of the design challenge and the envisioned solution. Brainstorming sessions will be conducted over Skype (or a similar video conferencing tool), with moderation from faculty at both universities.

Week 2: The Ashesi student team will identify sources of primary information and conduct interviews and observational studies with community health workers to identify the challenges of current tools like the Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) Timer, or the color-coded bead counter. The Ashesi team will also explore the social and economic barriers to accessing adequate health care for paediatric populations in low-resource settings. The Dartmouth team will interview clinical experts and will also perform secondary research about point-of-care diagnostics and the economic barriers to their adoption.

Weeks 3-8: Both teams will participate in several iterations of solution design, prototyping, usability testing, analysis and redesign. Usability testing will be performed by the Ashesi students, while prototyping will be performed by the Dartmouth students. The entire Dartmouth-Ashesi team will meet (via Skype or a similar video conferencing tool) at the end of each usability testing phase to analyse test results and to develop an appropriate new design. While Ashesi students conduct usability testing, the Dartmouth team will prototype alternative solutions in parallel – this is to maximise productivity during the 6 week period and to perform as many design iterations as possible.

Weeks 9-10: The Dartmouth-Ashesi team will finalise the solution design, and the Dartmouth team will prototype a final version. The Ashesi team will test this prototype, and both teams will write a joint project report. The project report will include (1) a description of the scope of the problem; (2) problem details and insights that were learned during the Week 2 research and discovery phase; (3) the rationale for the various design choices that were made in the eventual solution; (4) technical documentation that describes all of the artifacts (computer code, circuit designs, 3D drawings, etc.) that were produced as part of the solution.

  1. Evaluation:

After the end of the 10-week project, Dartmouth faculty will review the activities and results of all aspects of the collaboration, including logistics, administration and instruction. The Dartmouth team will come up with a report that identifies – and attempts to explain – the aspects of the collaboration that worked well and those that did not.

Expected Impact

The 10-week design project will teach both universities a lot about the other’s organisational culture, and we are bound to discover many unanticipated shortcomings and opportunities from our interactions. We hope to use this initial experience to pursue a more ambitious, long-term program of a collaborative design course that would formally become a part of the curriculum at Dartmouth and Ashesi, co-taught by faculty from both schools, and open to students from both schools.

For Ashesi students, the impact of such a course would be access to world-class instructional and prototyping facilities. For Dartmouth students, the benefit would be exposure to real, global-scale engineering challenges. For all students, the experience would be an immersive lesson in cross-cultural communication, a critical skill in today’s globalised engineering workforce.

Faculty involved in this course could experiment with different approaches to hybrid distance/classroom learning; they could potentially create pedagogical innovations for teaching hands-on, physical, engineering and design courses at extremely low cost.

For the discipline of embedded systems engineering, the long-term impact of this collaboration is a new design ethos that is highly conscious of cost (materials and sourcing costs, manufacturing costs, running/maintenance costs, end-of-life costs) from the beginning, and at every level of abstraction, of the project.

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