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Developing Flexibly Adaptive Skills through Progressive Design Challenges

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 6: Design and Design Chanllenges

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Sean P Brophy Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Sean Brophy is course coordinator and lead instructor for first year engineering honors at Purdue University. He has collaborated with colleagues in multiple engineering disciplines to develop and research effective pedagogical methods that support challenge based instruction. His research in engineering education and the learning sciences investigate how people think and learn with technology and with peers.

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This research study explores the potential of using a progression of design challenges in a studio setting to develop students’ ability to adapt to solving complex challenges. Engineering design blended with challenge-based instructions (a model of project based instruction) provides an excellent model of instruction for obtaining multiple learning outcomes associated with developing content knowledge, innovation skills, project management strategies, professional skills (communicating, teaming, leadership) and disposition for sustained inquiry. Many first year engineering programs provide design challenges for teams to work on during the term (for example). However, sometimes these challenges may be too large to allow all team members to engage in the design process deeply. Further, instructors cannot observe teams in action during their design process, which makes it difficult to provide feedback. Nor can they assess teams’ workflow process as they transfer what they learn into knowledge needed to define a solution. Over the past two years we have used a collection of small design challenges at multiple times of the year to help teams practice and reflect on their processes of design, teaming and project management. These two hour design sessions engaged learners in a short conceptual design around an interesting problem. After each session the students reflected on their process and then discussed as a class. A self-report survey was used to evaluate students’ perceptions of their process. Students report a positive increase in their team’s ability to manage their processes. In addition they report being more confident in approaching challenging design activities like the larger class projects. This paper outlines principles for constructing an effective design experience for undergraduate engineering education that co-develops design skills and the professional skills associated with a productive team’s workflow and effective communication of research finding.

Brophy, S. P. (2016, June), Developing Flexibly Adaptive Skills through Progressive Design Challenges Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26759

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