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Analysis of Reflective Memos

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

The Best of Design in Engineering

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.205.1 - 22.205.13



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Paper Authors


Mark W. Steiner Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Mark W. Steiner is Director of the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory in the School of Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Clinical Professor in the Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering department. Mark graduated from Rensselaer with a B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1978 and a Ph.D. in 1987. He has been a member of the Rensselaer faculty since May 1999. Mark worked at GE Corporate from 1987 to 1991, consulting and introducing world-class productivity practices throughout GE operations. In 1991 he joined GE Appliances and led product line structuring efforts resulting in $18 million annual cost savings to the refrigeration business. Later as a design team leader he led product development efforts and the initial 1995 market introduction of the Built-In Style line of GE Profile refrigerators. His last assignment at GE Appliances was in the Office of Chief Engineer in support of GE’s Design for Six Sigma initiative. Dr. Steiner has taught advanced design methods to hundreds of new and experienced engineers. His research interests include; design education, product architecture, mechanical reliability, design for manufacture and quality.

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Junichi Kanai Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Junichi Kanai (
He received his BS in Electrical Engineering, M.Eng. and Ph.D. in Computer and Systems Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 1983, 1985, and 1990, respectively. From 1991 to 1998, Dr. Kanai was an Associate Research Professor at the Information Science Research Institute, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, working on document image processing. From 1998 to 2002, he was a senior scientist at Panasonic Information and Networking Technologies Lab, Princeton, NJ. His work included development and transfer of advanced technologies to product divisions. From 2002 to 2004, he was a manager at Matsushita Electric Corporation of America (Panasonic), Secaucus, NJ, providing system integration and software development for clients. Dr. Kanai joined RPI in 2004. He is currently Associate Director of the O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory and Clinical Associate Professor of the Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, RPI.

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Cheng Hsu Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Cheng Hsu is a Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York. He teaches courses in Capstone Senior Design, Simulation, Information Systems, and Databases. His research covers Metadatabase,data and knowledge systems analysis and design, service science, human networks, energy systems analysis, and cyber-security. He has published 6 books, over 100 scholarly papers in IEEE Transactions, ACM Transactions, and other achival journals and refereed conference proceedings. He served on a few editorial boards for scholarly journals, as well as on the Faculty Senate at Rensselaer.

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Richard Alben Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Richard Alben received his Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard University in 1967. After a post-dcc at the University of Osaka, he joined the Yale Dept of Engineering and Applied Science in 1968 as Assistant and later Associate Professor. In 1977 he joined GE and manager of Energy Technology Evaluation at the GE Corporate Laboratory until 1981. He held a number of management and staff positions in GE until his retirement in 2001, at which point he joined RPI. He is currently Clinical Associate Professor of Mechanical Aerospace and Nuclear Engineer and is part of the faculty responsible for RPI's Capstone Design Course.

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Analysis of End of the Semester Student Reflective Memos and Peer Evaluations Collected Over Multiple Years from Real World Multidisciplinary Capstone Design ExperiencesHaving students articulate and reflect upon their experience is a valuable andimportant way to reinforce an appreciation for lessons learned in the context ofcapstone design. Taken in concert with peer evaluations, end of the semesterstudent reflective memos are also an invaluable source of assessmentinformation and can provide guidance for continuous improvement of educationalprocesses in line with ABET criteria and outcomes. However, concerns about theproper use of these reviews abound. Foremost is the quality and consistency ofpeer reviews – whether they are reliable to be included as a component ofperformance measure. Then, the concerns extend to the qualitative andsubjective nature of reflections – how the capstone design courses caneffectively incorporate them as feedback to the course pedagogy. Becausereflective memos do not readily lend themselves to numerical analysis, they canbe easily overlooked over time and the value they potentially represent lost.This paper provides an analysis of end of the semester student reflective memoscollected over five years from a capstone course based on real worldmultidisciplinary design experiences. Disciplinary participation included studentsfrom biomedical, computer systems, electrical, industrial, materials andmechanical engineering. Questions derived from NSF research on capstoneassessment were used to elicit student responses [1]. The analysis includesstudies on how students’ self-assessment correlated with their performances inthe course; how peer reviews correlated with instructors’ assessment based onother objective indicators; and the development of quantifiable indicators forotherwise qualitative reflections as feedback to the course. We have foundstudents to be surprisingly candid and frank about what they have learned. Overtime we have observed common themes that emerge amongst studentsconcerning their ability to deal with project changes and team dynamics and havecharted the resulting ebb and flow of enthusiasm and motivation over the courseof a semester. Characteristics specific to particular disciplines will behighlighted, along with changes made in instructional methods to improveteamwork, communication, and the design process.[1] Denny Davis, Steven Beyerlein, Phillip Thompson, Olakunle Harrison, MichaelTrevisan, “Assessments for Capstone Engineering Design: TransferableIntegrated Design Engineering Education,” NSF Grants HER/DUE 0404924 andDUE 0717561, February 4, 2009.

Steiner, M. W., & Kanai, J., & Hsu, C., & Alben, R. (2011, June), Analysis of Reflective Memos Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17486

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