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Design-learning Preferences of First-year Electrical and Computer Engineering Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Design Mental Frameworks

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Christopher D. Schmitz University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Christopher D. Schmitz was born in Pana, Illinois in 1969. An Electrical Engineer, he received his BS with University Honors in 1993 and his MS in the area of algorithmic fault-tolerant adaptive systems in 1996 from the University of Illinois. He completed his Ph.D. in the area of multi-user cellular communication in 2002 from the University of Illinois.

He worked for TRW Space and Electronics Group from 1995 until 1997 and at the University of Illinois from 2002 to present. His research interests are in adaptive digital signal processing, digital communications, and education pedagogy. He currently serves the ECE department of the University of Illinois as a Teaching Associate Professor and an undergraduate advisor and is working to improve undergraduate education as an Education Innovation Fellow (EIF) in the Grainger College of Engineering.

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Jake Fava Siebel Center for Design

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Jake is a Design Strategist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Siebel Center for Design, working to integrate human-centered design education into curricula across campus.

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Sneha Subramanian Siebel Center for Design

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Sneha Subramanian is a Design Fellow at the Siebel Center for Design. Her work is primarily focused on design strategy and research.

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Modern engineering curricula seek to include project-based design in order to prepare engineering graduates for industry. Human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that identifies the unmet need of a population in order to collaboratively and iteratively develop solutions. Integrating engineering experiential learning with human-centered design practices support students in developing skills that closely resemble real-world engineering practices.

In order to identify design opportunities that allows us to effectively integrate human-centered design in engineering practices, this work-in-progress qualitative research study will explore attitudes and perceptions of engineering students around the role of design in engineering education through interviewing current students in an introductory engineering design course and students who have taken the course in the past. The study will also investigate the challenges of teaching engineering design and methods of overcoming them through interviews with teaching assistants (TAs) of the same course and instructors - both of this course and other design-related courses. This study is part of a series of research projects led by a newly-established design center at a large midwestern university [blinded for review]. The center collaborates with other units on campus to conduct research on the student experience, with the intent of using research findings to design experiences that meet the needs and desires of students.

The study is taking place in an undergraduate engineering course that introduces 410 engineering students to electrical engineering. In Fall 2020, there are 16 laboratory sections of this course. Each section has 9-32 students as of October 12, 2020 and is facilitated by 2 graduate teaching assistants per lab.

Over the course of the research, the team will conduct qualitative interviews with 5-10 students currently in the course, 3-5 TAs for the course, 2-4 instructors, and 4-8 students that have taken the course in the past. Additionally, the research team is developing a series of educational modules that introduce students in the course to a variety of human-centered design topics. Submissions to these assignments from research participants will be released to the research team upon consent.

Through these conversations, the team hopes to gain some insight into the engineering students of today - how they perceive the relationship between design and engineering, what they hope to gain from their education, and ultimately what we can do as educators to tailor materials to address misconceptions or biases in design thought that students might have. Talking to students who have taken the class in the past will offer a glimpse into how students’ attitudes and perceptions shift throughout their college careers, and capturing TA and instructor perceptions will be integral to understanding the existing constraints, challenges, and approaches to teaching design in engineering courses. Findings from this research will be used to inform future iterations of design integration into engineering curricula.

Schmitz, C. D., & Fava, J., & Subramanian, S. (2021, July), Design-learning Preferences of First-year Electrical and Computer Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36926

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