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Experimental Validation Of An Improved Design Method

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Student Teams and Design Skills

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.623.1 - 11.623.10



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Paper Authors


Durward Sobek Montana State University

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Durward Sobek is an Associate Professor in Industrial and Management Engineering at Montana State University. He holds an AB degree in Engineering Science from Dartmouth College, and MS and PhD degrees in Industrial and Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan.

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Joshua Ruder Montana State University

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Joshua Ruder is a Master's student in Industrial and Management Engineering at Montana State University.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Experimental Validation of an Improved Design Method


Prior investigation found a statistical association between engineering effort aimed at system- level design issues and the quality of design outcomes in senior design projects, but that simply “telling” students to consider system architecture and interface issues in their designs was not effective. We developed a method to help design engineers with this important phase of design, then conducted an experiment involving mechanical engineering students to test its effectiveness. This paper describes the experimental method, presents results, and discusses the implications for engineering education research.


In prior research on student design projects, we observed that system-level design effort associates positively with productivity and design quality. System-level design pertains to questions of product or system architecture, configuration, and layout; and as such, provides an important bridge between conceptual design work and detailed design decisions. While prior research indicates that this phase of design seems important to successful outcomes of design processes, it is not well understood and we have not yet established a causal link. To do this, we developed a tool designed to elicit system-level design work from the user. We then conducted an experiment to test whether use of the tool improves design performance among student designers.

Many methods and tools have been developed to teach good practices and assist the design process.1 Existing tools and methods tend to focus on either the front-end tasks of conceptual design, particularly ideation and selection, or on the back-end, such as computer-aided design and analysis tools. However, little is available to guide the phase that bridges concept and detailed design, what we call system-level design. We hope to address this gap.

Interestingly, few of the existing tools and methods have been verified experimentally to validate the superiority of one method over another. It would seem that engineering educators would want to know whether a particular tool has been tested and verified as effective before presenting it to students as good design practice.

Thus, this paper contributes to engineering education on two fronts. First, we provide a method for improving student design processes that has been experimentally validated, which would be of interest to educators interested in engineering design. Second, we describe a cross-over experimental method which can be useful to a broad range of education researchers wanting to test pedagogical tools/methods experimentally. The experimental design has simple but strong internal and external validation indicators, and overcomes some of the ethical issues which often surround experiments in an educational setting.

Sobek, D., & Ruder, J. (2006, June), Experimental Validation Of An Improved Design Method Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--849

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