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Engineering Student Design Processes: Looking At Evaluation Practices Across Problems

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Design and Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.493.1 - 7.493.9



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Paper Authors

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Monica Cardella

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Cynthia Atman

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Session 2630

Engineering Student Design Processes: Looking at Evaluation Practices Across Problems

Monica E. Cardella 1, Cynthia J. Atman 1,2, Robin S. Adams 1, and Jennifer Turns1,3 1 Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching/ 2Department of Industrial Engineering/ 3Department of Technical Communication University of Washington, Seattle, Washington


The act of evaluating solutions is a common engineering design activity. Over the past eight years we have used verbal protocol analysis to gain insight into engineering students’ design processes. This study includes protocols from 32 freshmen and 61 seniors who solved 2 design problems that differed in complexity. In this dataset, 18 of the subjects solved the same problems as both freshmen and seniors. This dataset has allowed us to characterize differences between freshmen and seniors on a global scale as well as an individual scale. Additionally, the inclusion of two problems that vary in complexity allows us to analyze differences in performance and behaviors across problems.

One of the important findings that has emerged from an across problem comparison is differences in the amount of time that students spent evaluating their solutions. In particular, (i) students spent more time evaluating their solutions and (ii) a greater number of students evaluated their solutions when solving a more “complex” problem as compared to a less “complex” one. In this paper, we present these results and discuss reasons for these differences. These include differences in the complexity of the two problems and the kinds of processes students employed while designing their solutions. We will also discuss the relationships between time spent evaluating and the number of constraints considered (constraints either given or introduced by the student). We conclude this paper with a summary of implications for engineering education.


While engineering disciplines vary in emphasis, a central element to all is design. Some engineers design bridges or structures, some software and other manufacturing tools and assemblies. In addition to job requirements that demand design skills of engineers, current ABET criteria require engineering programs to identify, assess and demonstrate evidence of design competency1. In order to satisfy these demands, engineering programs must understand design

“Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education”

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Cardella, M., & Atman, C. (2002, June), Engineering Student Design Processes: Looking At Evaluation Practices Across Problems Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10066

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