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Designing for Communities: The Impact of Domain Expertise

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Best of DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.380.1 - 23.380.24



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Paper Authors

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Kristina Elizabeth Krause The Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching - University of Washington


Cynthia J. Atman University of Washington

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Cynthia J. Atman is the founding director of the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT), a professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering, former director of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), and the inaugural holder of the Mitchell T. & Lella Blanche Bowie Endowed Chair at the University of Washington. She earned her doctorate in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University and joined the UW in 1998 after seven years on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research centers on engineering design learning with a focus on issues of context in design. She is a fellow of AAAS and ASEE, was the 2002 recipient of the ASEE Chester F. Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education, and received the 2009 UW David B. Thorud Leadership Award.

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Jim L. Borgford-Parnell University of Washington Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jim Borgford-Parnell is Associate Director and Instructional Consultant at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching in the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. He taught furniture design, design drawing, research methods, and adult and higher education theory and pedagogy courses for over 25 years. He has been involved in instructional development for 15 years, and currently does both research and instructional development in engineering education. He has published and presented on engineering design, engineering pedagogies, and instructional development topics. Jim has been an evaluator and consultant on several NSF-funded grant projects.

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Ken Yasuhara Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT), University of Washington

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Ken Yasuhara was a research team member for the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education’s Academic Pathways Study (CAEE APS) and is currently a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT). His research and teaching interests include engineering design, major choice, and professional portfolios. He completed an A.B. in computer science at Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. When he finds the time, he enjoys cooking, photography, bicycle repair, and cycling (instead of owning a car).

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Designing for Communities: The Impact of Domain ExpertiseEngineers are often tasked with designing projects that demand consideration of local, regional,and even global communities. The contexts in which engineering projects are situated can becomplex, and require both technical expertise and an ability to consider broad contextual issues.While expert engineers hold a myriad of experiential knowledge in their domain of expertise toaid them in thinking more broadly; the beginning engineer relies predominately upon theireducational background. ABET, the engineering accreditation body, specifically states inCriterion 3H, that engineering programs should help engineering students achieve the “the broadeducation necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic,environmental, and societal context.” Teaching these skills to engineering students is a difficulttask, but one that is essential if engineers are to design for the benefit of the communities inwhich they work, interact, and reside. The research presented in this paper addresses thischallenge by seeking to understand the relationships between the possession of expertise in aparticular domain and the potential accompanying ability to situate problems and think morebroadly. Insights from this work can inform the creation of methods to support engineeringstudents in developing expertise that involves the broad thinking necessary to encouragecommunity-oriented design solutions. This paper presents a qualitative analysis of transcribed think-aloud sessions whereinparticipants were given the task of designing a playground within a three hour time frame. Thesample consisted of five engineering experts screened for lack of playground design knowledgeand four playground experts. All participants were chosen to represent a spectrum of ability increating quality design artifacts. Following coding of transcriptions, derived data wereinstantiated as visualizations to uncover initial relationships between codes and the participantsthemselves. The results of this analysis demonstrate that participants with domain expertise (i.e.playground experts), when compared with non-domain experts (i.e. engineering experts), wereinclined to consider context (esp. socially oriented factors) more often, regarded actors and theiruse of the playground equipment in a holistic manner, and utilized professional domainknowledge over personal knowledge almost exclusively. Bucharelli (2008) stated, “The way we structure our curriculum and teach our subjects allconspire to instill in the student the idea that engineering work is value-free”. Suchstraightforward, linear thinking in design processes may be detrimental to broad thinking andlimit engineers’ ability to be successful designers of community-based projects. Byacknowledging the impact of domain expertise and experience, we may find inspiration and alens through which engineering educators may begin to better aid their students in developingdesign expertise that is connected, socially-conscious, and inspired.

Krause, K. E., & Atman, C. J., & Borgford-Parnell, J. L., & Yasuhara, K. (2013, June), Designing for Communities: The Impact of Domain Expertise Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19394

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