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Assessing Ways of Experiencing Human-centered Design via Student Reflections

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Empathy and Human-centered Design 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth A. Sanders Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Elizabeth A. Sanders is an Engineering Education Ph.D. student at Purdue University. She holds a B.S. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign ’18) and an M.A. in Higher Education (University of Michigan ’20).

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Molly H. Goldstein University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Molly H. Goldstein is Teaching Assistant Professor in Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She previously worked as an environmental engineer specializing in air quality influencing her focus in engineering design with environmental concerns. Her research interests center on engineering design in undergraduate and precollege settings. She obtained her BS in General Engineering (Systems and Design) and MS in Systems and Entrepreneurial Engineering from the University of Illinois and PhD in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Justin L. Hess Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Justin L Hess is an assistant professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His vision is to inspire change in engineering culture to become more socially responsive, environmentally friendly, and inclusive, thereby providing opportunities for all current and prospective engineers to reach their maximum potential. Dr. Hess’s primary research interests including exploring the functional role of empathy in various domains, including engineering ethics, design, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. He received his PhD from Purdue University's School of Engineering Education, as well as a Master of Science and Bachelor of Science from Purdue University's School of Civil Engineering. He is the 2021 division chair-elect for the ASEE Liberal Education/Engineering and Society division.

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Introduction: With a worldwide pandemic threatening the health of all, now is the time to ensure our college students gain the skills and motivations necessary to address grand societal challenges in meaningful ways. One “grand challenge” that we put forth is the need to prepare engineering undergraduate students to integrate empathy throughout their design process. Human centered design is one specific design methodology wherein empathy is especially critical, as empathy provides the modality for entering into and accurately understanding user experience.

Study Background: This work-in-progress study is set in the context of a large (n=124) 100-level design and graphics course at a large Midwestern University. This course has two larger learning goals: (1) to introduce engineering design methodology, demonstrating the role of graphics in the engineering design process, and (2) to provide insight into the product design process, in particular as it relates to the architecture and functionality of the product. Through a semester-long design project in Fall 2020, 34 teams of students participated in the human centered design process in order to address the challenge of eating lunch at a K-12 school during our current COVID crisis. Students were asked to design ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during lunch at a large school with a mechanical product which can be centrally manufactured and assembled, then distributed. Teams participated in the human centered design process including interviews with users and stakeholders, synthesizing insights, idea generation, and evidence-based decision-making before using Fusion 360 to model their final design prototype.

Objectives: The primary objective of this study was to understand the qualitatively different ways that empathy manifests in student design artifacts and written reports.

Methods: We analyzed all 34 design teams’ final CAD models and final written reports using a bottom-up approach to thematic analysis, categorizing the degree to which their final design embodies empathic design principles. We used team written reports to support our observations.

Preliminary Results: Preliminary results student teams exhibit varying levels of empathic techniques (e.g., observation, interaction) and empathy types (e.g., empathic concern, imagine-other perspective-taking) when tasked with a human centered design project. These categories will be used to help understand student design approaches in order to scaffold more meaningful learning.

Sanders, E. A., & Goldstein, M. H., & Hess, J. L. (2021, July), Assessing Ways of Experiencing Human-centered Design via Student Reflections Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36724

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