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Assessing Learning Outcomes Of Senior Mechanical Engineers In A Capstone Design Experience

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Assessing Design Coursework II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.269.1 - 12.269.19



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Paper Authors


Olga Pierrakos Virginia Tech

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Olga Pierrakos is currently a National Academy of Engineering CASEE AGEP Postdoctoral Engineering Education Researcher (PEER) at Virginia Tech in the Department of Engineering Education. Dr. Pierrakos holds an M.S. in Engineering Mechanics and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Virginia Tech. Her Ph.D. work pertained to vortex dynamics in left ventricular flows. She has served as faculty advisor to over thirty mechanical engineering seniors involved in biomedical engineering design projects and taught several mechanical engineering fluid mechanics, design, and technical communication courses. Her research interests are outcomes-based assessment methods for a variety of learning experiences in engineering, students' learning mechanisms, using research and design examples to teach engineering concepts, K-12 engineering education, and cardiovascular fluid mechanics research.

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Maura Borrego Virginia Tech

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Maura Borrego is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech and 2005 Rigorous Research in Engineering Education evaluator. Dr. Borrego holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. She teaches a graduate-level engineering education assessment course at Virginia Tech. Her current research interests center around interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and engineering education, including studies of the collaborative relationships between engineers and education researchers. She was recently awarded a CAREER grant from NSF to study interdisciplinarity in engineering graduate programs nationwide.

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Jenny Lo Virginia Tech

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Jenny Lo, assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, is interested in understanding and improving engineering curriculum related to introductory engineering courses, engineering design, engineering ethics, and undergraduate research.

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

Assessing Learning Outcomes of Senior Mechanical Engineers in a Capstone Design Experience

1. Introduction

Design is widely considered to be the central or distinguishing activity of engineering. A capstone design course and project (Senior Design) not only provides a meaningful design experience for students, but also creates an opportunity for them to begin the process of becoming engineering professionals. Participation in capstone design projects deepens a student’s understanding and promotes the communication and teamwork needed to solve complex problems. Also, enabling students to be part of the intellectual process instills in them a sense of fulfillment and imparts life-long benefits. Capstone design courses are also one of the most effective ways for engineering departments to facilitate to the outcomes of ABET criteria 3a-k. Although capstone design courses have great potential for bringing active learning to the undergraduate level, little is known about the student learning outcomes (what students know and are able to do, i.e. knowledge, skills, attitudes) as a result of these often year-long design projects. There are limited assessment studies that address what students learn from these capstone design projects. ABET criteria 3a-k challenges engineering institutions to produce graduates with professional as well as technical skills by outlining the desired attributes for graduating engineers. This paper discusses the bodies-of-knowledge and learning outcomes comprising of the countless ways in which students benefit from being involved in senior design projects. Since most of our students follow careers that lead to industry, of particular importance is how these design experiences help to make better engineers. A pilot survey instrument, which included the compilation of over fifty learning outcomes (categorized as either “technical” or “personal and professional” learning outcomes) closely linked to the ABET criteria and other desired skills, was developed and administered to 125 mechanical engineering seniors at Virginia Tech at the end of their first semester capstone experience. This will be repeated at the end of their second semester experience as well. Presented herein are results from the first semester only. Emphasis was placed on assessing knowledge and skills pertaining to but not limited to: (1) problem-solving, (2) writing and communication skills, (3) understanding and applying knowledge, (4) teamwork, (5) confidence gains, (6) organization and management skills, and (7) interest and engagement of project. In better assessing the quality of learning during this capstone design experience, we have classified these technical learning outcomes to the six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, a hierarchy of cognitive learning skills. Lastly, in accompaniment to the student survey instrument intended to assess the extent to which these students are achieving certain learning outcomes desired of engineering graduates, a similar faculty survey instrument was also developed to assess the extend to which faculty expected the students to meet these learning outcomes. The goals guiding this research effort were to: (1) identify and generate a set of student learning outcomes for undergraduate engineering students involved in capstone design, (2) develop two survey instruments, one for the students and one for the faculty advisors, to assess the students’ learning outcomes and compare these to how well the faculty felt that the students met these outcomes,

Pierrakos, O., & Borrego, M., & Lo, J. (2007, June), Assessing Learning Outcomes Of Senior Mechanical Engineers In A Capstone Design Experience Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1953

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