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Characterizing Engineering Student Design Processes An Illustration Of Iteration

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.143.1 - 5.143.11



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Robin S. Adams

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Cynthia Atman

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Session 2330

Characterizing Engineering Student Design Processes: An Illustration of Iteration

Robin S. Adams, Cynthia J. Atman Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching College of Education / Industrial Engineering University of Washington


Engineering design problems are often ambiguous, ill-structured, and usually have multiple solutions. As a result, a designer’s understanding of the problem or possible solutions evolves through a process of iteration. To understand iterative behaviors we need to investigate what information is known by the designer, how that information is acquired and utilized, what kinds of changes to the design problem occurred as a result of these activities, and how these behaviors affect the quality of the final solution and contribute to the efficiency of the design process itself. In our previous work, we developed a cognitive model for capturing both the evolution of these information processing activities and any changes made to the design problem, solution or process. In this paper we present a case study analysis comparing freshmen and senior engineering students. Verbal protocol data and independent measures of the quality of students final design solutions were used to provide illustrative examples of differences in iterative approaches related to experience and performance. An analysis of these behaviors in terms of problem scoping, solution revision, and comprehension monitoring activities will be presented and discussed.

I. Introduction

To compete in an increasingly global economy, the education of tomorrow’s engineers emphasizes the solving of open-ended engineering design problems. This theme is evident in the growing level of collaboration among accrediting agencies, industry, and federal funding agencies to support research on the assessment of student learning, and to encourage excellence in curriculum and pedagogy that provide an exposure to engineering practice1-3. Also, the implementation of the new ABET EC 2000 criteria4 makes it necessary for engineering programs to identify, assess, and demonstrate evidence of design competency. Before more effective instructional strategies can be implemented and assessed there is a need to better understand design problem solving behavior.

Engineering design problems are often characterized as ambiguous, ill-defined, and having multiple solutions that can satisfy a problem’s requirements. As a complex and often data- driven behavior5, engineering design differs from mathematics or science problem solving in three primary ways: design is a goal-oriented activity6, the “stopping point” is neither systematic or

Adams, R. S., & Atman, C. (2000, June), Characterizing Engineering Student Design Processes An Illustration Of Iteration Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8204

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