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Examining the Engineering Design Process of First-Year Engineering Students During a Hands-on, In-class Design Challenge.

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 8: Teaching Design in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.558.1 - 24.558.19



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Paper Authors


Jessica E.S. Swenson Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Jessica Swenson is a graduate student at Tufts University. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with a research focus on engineering education. She received a M.S. from Tufts University in science, technology, engineering and math education and a B.S. from Northwestern University in mechanical engineering. Her current research involves examining the design process of undergraduate students in project-based courses.

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Merredith D. Portsmore Tufts University

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Dr. Merredith Portsmore is the Associate Director for Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach ( Merredith received all four of her degrees from Tufts (B.A. English, B.S. Mechanical Engineering, M.A. Education, PhD in Engineering Education). Her research interests focus on how children engage in designing and constructing solutions to engineering design problems and evaluating students’ design artifacts. Her outreach work focuses on creating resources for K-12 educators to support engineering education in the classroom. She is also the founder of STOMP (, and (

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Ethan E. Danahy Tufts University

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Ethan Danahy is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department Computer Science at Tufts University outside of Boston MA, having received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science in 2000 and 2002, respectively, and a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering in 2007, all from Tufts. Additionally, he acts as the Engineering Research Program Director at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), where he manages educational technology development projects while researching innovative and interactive techniques for assisting teachers with performing engineering education and communicating robotics concepts to students spanning the K-12 through university age range.

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The Dynamics of Engineering Design Discourse in a First Year Robotics-based Engineering CourseThe first year engineering experience has garnered much attention as universities seek toretain students in engineering programs and prepare graduates to engage in rigorousteam-based, design work. To date, much of the research on first year experiences hasbeen of affective and motivational aspects, like self-efficacy, and achievement (e.g.Jones, Paretti, Hein, Knott, 2010). There is limited study of first year engineeringstudents design practices. Atman et al’s (1999) seminal work design has characterizedfirst year engineering students’ design process as naïve in comparison to upper levelstudents, lacking in the amount of problem scoping, questioning, and other designpractices. This work helps us to understand the characteristics of first year students but itfails to give faculty details about the interactions and dynamics to expect in their design-based class.This study seeks to characterize and categorize first year engineering students in-classdiscourse when involved in design challenges through a qualitative study of 3 groups in afirst year robotics-based engineering course. [Name Blinded] University offers severalchoices of design-based courses for students to take in their first semester. [NameBlinded] is a course within the computer science department that includes weekly LEGO-robotics based challenges and a culminating design project. This study looked at 3groups interactions during two challenges in the middle of the semester. Video wasrecorded and transcribed and coded for engineering design practices using Atman et al’s(1999) original protocol with Wendell’ (2013) modifications for group discourse.Preliminary finding show changing design practices based on the context and type ofchallenge. In addition, we see changes in how students frame the problem shifting asthey consider design constraints and classroom constraints. This work has implicationsfor how first year engineering course instructors support and develop engineering designin their interactions with students.

Swenson, J. E., & Portsmore, M. D., & Danahy, E. E. (2014, June), Examining the Engineering Design Process of First-Year Engineering Students During a Hands-on, In-class Design Challenge. Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20449

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