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A Framework For Using Graphical Representations As Assessments Of Engineering Thinking

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Innovative Teaching and Assessment Tools

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.28.1 - 15.28.17



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Paper Authors


Sean Brophy Purdue University

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Sean P. Brophy, PhD. is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University. Dr. Brophy is a learning scientist and engineer; his research focuses on the development of learners’ development of adaptive expertise needed to solve complex problems in engineering, mathematics and science contexts. He uses results from his work with learners to inform instructional design methods with and without advanced technology.

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Sensen Li Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Sensen Li is a graduate student in Engineering Education program at Purdue University. She received her Masters in Education Technology Program at Purdue University. Her research interest focuses on engineering problem solving, cognition and instructional design.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Framework for Using Graphical Representations as Assessments of Engineering Thinking


Engineers and engineering students often face the challenge of comprehending complex systems because they are unsuccessful at recognizing major components in the system and the relationships between the components. Diagrams and sketches can facilitate their comprehension and communication of the complexity of a system. Their ability to construct and reason with these diagrams demonstrates their understanding of how to use the tools and their current conceptual understanding of the factors governing the behavior of that system. We are conducting a series of studies to better understand how students come to understand these tools better and its link to comprehending new domain knowledge.

This paper presents a theoretical framework for analyzing the interaction between knowledge associated with graphical representations (tools) to support thinking and the domain knowledge associated with using these tools to solve both routine problems and adapting ones knowledge to generate new knowledge (innovation). We used think aloud protocols and observation of dyads working on problem solving activities (designing, troubleshooting, analyzing or explaining) with these tools. We explored results from two pilot studies generating a House of Quality and functional block diagrams, which are both useful tools in making sense of a problem context. Participants constructed the diagrams as individuals or as part of a team. Results from these studies inform the development of a framework we use to guide our interpretation of students learning progression thinking will inform the design of timely and meaningful formative feedback in an automated formative assessment system called Graphical Representations to Assess System Performance (GRASP).


Proficiency in engineering domains requires experience applying the governing principles within a specified domain and the tools needed to support the comprehension and monitoring of factors indicating a system s performance (ability to achieve a function). These tools may appear simple to describe in its form and function, but difficult to apply strategically to a context. The context is defined as strategically, because it requires a multi-step logical, systematic interaction with domain knowledge. As experts we may be blind to this interaction1; therefore, we make

Brophy, S., & Li, S. (2010, June), A Framework For Using Graphical Representations As Assessments Of Engineering Thinking Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16769

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