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Collaboration Patterns and Design Practices in First-Year Project-Based Engineering

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Design Across Curriculum 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Ha Nguyen University of California, Irvine

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Ha Nguyen is a PhD student studying systems thinking and collaborative learning in STEM.

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Liang Li Wu University of California, Irvine

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Liang (Lily) Wu is the Director of Academic Innovation, Programs at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering, University of California, Irvine. Dr. Wu is responsible for implementing, overseeing and assessing the first-year engineering program and international programs to enhance and support the engineering education at the School of Engineering. Dr. Wu received her Ph.D. degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, Irvine with primary research focuses on the design, development and integration of microfluidic systems for biomedical applications.

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Gregory N. Washington University of California, Irvine

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Gregory Washington is Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Stacey Nicolas Dean of the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California Irvine. Professor Washington has been involved in multidomain research for the last 20 years. He is the first African-American Dean of Engineering at any of the University of California, Campuses. His core area of interest lies in the area of dynamic systems: modeling and control. During this time he has been involved in the following applications: the design and control of mechanically actuated antennas, advanced control of machine tools, the design and control of Hybrid Electric Vehicles, and structural position and vibration control with smart materials. He has written more than 150 technical publications in journals, edited volumes, and conference proceedings and is internationally known for his research on ultra-lightweight structurally active antenna systems and other structures that involve the use of “smart materials”. Professor Washington has served on several advisory boards to include the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and the National Science Foundation Engineering Advisory Board. He currently serves on the Pubic Policy Committee of the ASEE Engineering Deans Council. Professor Washington received his BS, MS and PhD degrees from NC State.

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Kyu Yon Lim Ewha Womans University


Christian Fischer University of Tübingen, Germany

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Christian Fischer is an Assistant Professor in Educational Effectiveness at the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology at the University of Tübingen, Germany. His research examines pathways to improve STEM teaching and learning. In particular, he is interested in how digital technologies can be used to improved learning processes.

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Engineering education departments have explored the potential of first-year project-based learning (PBL) to introduce students to engineering design practices and broaden participation pathways. PBL activities that engage students in design groups provide unique opportunities to involve students in design discourse to develop, negotiate, and fine-tune design decisions. Researchers have examined the benefits of PBL on students’ collaboration and identification with engineering design through self-reported surveys or interviews. Analyzing design discourse in first-year engineering teams provides a venue to explore students’ varied collaboration patterns in relation to design decision-making in the moment, rather than retrospective reporting.

In this study, we examine the collaborative design decision process among first-year engineering teams. This study took place in a two-quarter first-year PBL engineering course to design, build and test an autonomous device. We explored the joint design choices students made, particularly the regulation processes that they engaged in during decision-making. Design decision is conceptualized as choosing an idea or solution among alternatives, after a period of careful ideation, modeling, feasibility analysis, and evaluation. We hypothesize that first-year engineering students who engaged in more collaborative planning would produce more design decisions that are supported with feasibility analyses and evaluation.

Analyses draw from the audio transcripts of four teams’ discussion, as they worked on their engineering design projects over three weeks during lab sessions (total 24 hours of recording). We examine how the frequency of collaboration patterns relates to the number of engineering design decisions within teams. Additionally, we employ Epistemic Network Analysis to visualize the collaboration patterns among teams in dynamic network models, displaying the structure of connections among collaboration phases as well as the strength of those associations over time.

Results indicate that design decisions varied by groups. Groups with more complex collaboration patterns—employing all collaboration phases, particularly task understanding, strategic planning, and progress monitoring—more frequently engaged in shared design decision process. The patterns about engagement in different design processes resemble observations about expert versus novice designers. We discuss the implications of the findings for instructors and engineering departments to structure collaborative learning opportunities conducive to design decision processes. Future work includes examination of the differences in learning gains among individuals, by gender, prior achievement, and collaboration patterns, to explore the mechanisms in which students collaborated and the impacts on student learning.

Nguyen, H., & Wu, L. L., & Washington, G. N., & Lim, K. Y., & Fischer, C. (2020, June), Collaboration Patterns and Design Practices in First-Year Project-Based Engineering Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34298

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