Caution, construction site -- design students at work!

Approximately 40 US colleges and universities have design departments. Four each year are given an opportunity to work with Armco Company, headquartered in Middletown, Ohio.

Armco sets up a design problem (1979-80 was "products that teach") and provides design consultants and funds to pay for product development. Then in the spring the company hosts a meeting (Denver in a snowstorm this year) at which the students present their designs to two teams of evaluators.

As Armco explains:

* It is a sponsored investigation, not a contest or a materials problem.

* There are no winners.

* No losers.

* No prizes.

Most of the students taking part are seniors, and for most of them work in the Armco Students Design Program is a full-time senior project, which may or may not be a joint project with one or more others.

This year, students from Arizona State University, the University of Illinois , Rochester Institute of Technology, and San Jose State University met in Denver for some high-level show-and-tell with design experts from throughout the United States.

Among them were: Seth Banks, an industrial designer; Kathleen Hurley, a former teacher and a product developer of learning materials; several product-design reviewers for magazines, newspapers, textbooks companies, and educational products; Prof. Herbert Thier, University of California at Berkeley; and Edward Esty from the National Institute of Education.

The 19 Arizona State University students are all in the College of Agriculture. They designed five products making up a learning center. One, made of molded plastic with a hinged top, allows a student to place shapes he can feel but not see in appropriate spaces. When the task is completed he can easily lift the top and check his work.

The 12 University of Illinois students, all in the Department of Art and Design, each produced a single teaching product:

For deaf infants, a sound-sensitive set of plastic disks of varying colors which lights up according to pitch.

For blind youngsters, a hand-size puzzle that teaches Braille characters.

For music students, an electronic device keyed to true pitch to let a player or singer know whether he is on a note, flat, or sharp.

For word builders, a manually operated grid that makes words from roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

Ten San Jose State University students in the Industrial Design Department produced three devices, one of which casts a beam of light over individually chosen reading material at a particular speed to aid in pacing a reader.

And 19 Industrial Design Department students at Rochester Institute of Technology together fashioned a sophisticated set of learning materials that require teacher involvement, including a most complex electronic space voyage game.

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