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Board 76: Work-in-Progress: Threshold Concepts in Capstone Desgin

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED) Poster Session

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Design in Engineering Education Division (DEED)

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Elizabeth A. Debartolo Rochester Institute of Technology (COE)

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Elizabeth A. DeBartolo, PhD, is the Director of the Multidisciplinary Senior Design Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where students from Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Industrial, and Mechanical Engineering work together on multidisciplinary capstone projects.

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James Lucas Daly

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One approach to look at student learning is to identify “threshold concepts”. These are concepts that, once grasped, allow students to engage with the material in a fundamentally different way. First described by Meyer and Land, these concepts are transformative, irreversible, integrative, and troublesome. The process of mastering a threshold concept means traversing a liminal space during which the student is changed. Using data from periodic nationwide capstone surveys, combined with observation and review of capstone design literature, we propose three threshold concepts that are typical of Capstone Design courses: (1) Complex engineering problems are best solved by teams working together. (2) A team can learn a lot from a prototype, even (especially?) when it doesn’t work. (3) The goal isn’t to find the right answer, but to learn a process by which a satisfactory answer can be found. During Fall 2022, students in a large multidisciplinary engineering capstone program were asked to complete periodic written reflections in support of concepts 1 and 2. Four times over the semester, students reflected on their individual project work as part of a team, and two to three times over the semester, teams reflected on what they learned from early-stage prototypes. This paper presents our rationale for identifying these three threshold concepts, shares preliminary observations of student growth demonstrated in reflection assignments, and proposes next steps for facilitating student progress through these thresholds.

Debartolo, E. A., & Daly, J. L. (2023, June), Board 76: Work-in-Progress: Threshold Concepts in Capstone Desgin Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--42933

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