June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Design in Engineering Education
Case Studies of Problem Exploration Processes in Engineering Design
Looking beyond the provided or presented problem can allow new perspectives on the problem to emerge, opening up the possibility of different solutions. Little research has been performed to study how engineering designers engage in this process, called problem exploration. Through studies of cognitive strategies used to structure and frame problems in different ways, empirically-based design tools can be developed to support these practices by a broader group of engineering designers.
Thus, our study investigated the cognitive processes engineers use to explore and define problems. Using a think-aloud protocol approach, five mechanical engineering students at the senior undergraduate and graduate levels were asked to develop conceptual solutions for two different engineering design problems. Following each think-aloud session, the students participated in a retrospective interview where they were asked a series of questions exploring their perceptions of the presented problem, how they reframed the problem, and their awareness of their own methods of problem exploration. The goal of our work was to characterize ways the engineering students explored design problems and how different perspectives on the problem related to their proposed solutions.
In this paper, we present an in-depth analysis of the engineering student designer protocols to identify a set of strategies they used to take on different perspectives to the problem. The protocols and retrospective interviews revealed varied use of problem exploration strategies. We present each strategy used and provide examples of ways the strategy was applied to take on a new perspective to the problem, and also how that perspective led to solutions proposed. We also suggest ways to incorporate these strategies in engineering design pedagogy to improve students’ problem exploration processes.
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