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Cognitive Processes Instruction In An Undergraduate Engineering Design Course Sequence

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Design Cognition

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.331.1 - 14.331.17

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Paper Authors


Eric Pappas

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Dr. Eric Pappas is Associate Professor of Engineering at James Madison University. He developed, and was director of, the Advanced Engineering Writing and Communications Program in the College of Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) from 1993-2003.

Dr. Pappas was on the faculty of Virginia Tech from 1987-2003 and taught classes in technical writing, creative writing, American literature, interpersonal communications and public speaking, creative thinking, leadership, engineering design, management skills, gender issues, and professional ethics.

Since 1975, Dr. Pappas has consulted on a wide variety of topics including management skills, technical and scientific writing, public speaking, interpersonal communications, sexual harassment prevention, employee relations, creative thinking, diversity, and conflict negotiation.

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

Cognitive Processes Instruction in an Undergraduate Engineering Design Course Sequence

I. Introduction

Critical to effective and innovative design are the intentional thinking practices that go into the analysis and evaluation of a problem as well as the conception and development of a product or process. Using a variety of metacognitive processes promotes adaptive cognitive flexibility student designers need to design in a variety of contexts that address the inevitable problems the environment, human nature, and community needs precipitate. These skills are central to design instruction in sustainable societies in the new James Madison University School of Engineering.

Our six-course, three-year developmental studio design sequence includes instruction in cognitive processes, that is, the intentional and directed intellectual processes and habits that foster effective thinking a designer employs to generate an idea or solve a problem. Learning to think well requires intentional changes: changes in thinking processes, and changes in everyday habits and routines. One does not employ new thinking skills in isolation; rather, it requires developing a lifestyle, behaviors, and attitudes that inspire and support the process of thinking and effective design problem solving.

Design instruction in our six course undergraduate design sequence spans sophomore through senior years and focuses on sustainability in four contexts: environmental, socio- cultural, economic, and technical. Students learn to design (and re-design) for sustainability in all contexts and are required to build their designs. Throughout the program, students are required to design or re-design products and processes that are subject to sustainability criteria we developed for student projects. All our students are trained in the use of design tools, both electronic programs as well as hand tools and power tools.

More specifically, following a general introduction to the foundations of cognitive processes found in psychology, and creative process found in two- and three-dimensional art instruction, we offer developmental instruction in the following areas:

Metacognition and thinking processes—students engage in activities that require them to plan, reflect upon, and modify their own thinking processes and strategies, as well as adapt these methodologies to meet the needs of a specific design problem.

Structured and unstructured thinking strategies—students practice and personalize (adapt to their own habits and lifestyle) such strategies as focused reflection, brainstorming, writing as thinking, systems thinking, drawing as thinking, visualization, listening, and non- argumentative conversation.

Behavioral and lifestyle changes—students modify their daily habits and personal demeanors to more effectively conceptualize and utilize their time, as well as adjust their attitudes and learning style.

Pappas, E. (2009, June), Cognitive Processes Instruction In An Undergraduate Engineering Design Course Sequence Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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