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Exploring Design Failure in the Design Process: A Comparative Case Study of Young Engineering Students

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Student Division Poster Session

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Jessica Cellitti Drexel University

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Jessica Cellitti is a Ph.D. candidate with research interests focusing on pre-college engineering in urban public schools. Before entering the Ph.D. program at Drexel, she taught math and science in grades K-12 in for 7 years. She designed STEM elective courses on topics ranging from civil engineering and astrobiology to robotics. Jessica has two bachelor’s degrees in Elementary/Special Education and Psychology as well as minors in Mathematics and Science. While teaching she also pursued a Masters degree in Science Education as well as a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in STEM Education. Jessica is a NASA Endeavor Teaching Fellow and also a graduate of Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Academy.

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While several variations of the design processes are used throughout K-8 engineering classrooms, the overall process encourages students to identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, design and build at least one of the solutions, test the solution, and continue throughout an iterative cycle of redesigning and retesting until the solution is successful. An inevitable component of this design process is the experience of design failure, which occurs “when a designed solution, or aspect of a designed solution, does not meet criteria under constraints as specified by the problem” (Lottero-Perdue, 2015, p. 2). One’s ability to persist and learn from failure has been recognized throughout policy documents (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and research studies (Cunningham & Kelly, 2017) as an essential skill, or habit of mind, that successful engineers possess. However, when looking at societal views and the generalized school view of the word “failure,” there tends to be negative connotations and teachers typically associate failure with academic expectations or abilities (Lottero-Perdue, & Parry, 2017). Individual’s associations with the word “failure” are highly contextualized and can range from productive and positive to non-productive and negative. Arguing that failure is central to the engineering design process and one’s ability to persist in the face of failure is a necessary prerequisite for future engineers (Petroski, 2012), it is essential for young engineering students to view design failure in a productive and positive way. A central part engineering problem-solving is experiencing struggle, or uncomfortable moments where a designed solution is not working as it was intended. This study examines what these experiences look like for young engineering students, including how they react, and the strategies they use to persist (or not) through failure. This qualitative dissertation study, which has been approved for data collection, employs a comparative case study design in order to gain insight into how elementary engineering students experience design failure. More specifically, this dissertation looks to answer the following research questions: 1. What are design failure experiences in elementary engineering contexts? 2. In what ways do elementary engineering students react to design failure? 3. What are the coping strategies students use during and after design failure experiences that lead them to persist or not persist through failure? Since this dissertation study has passed the proposal stage, the poster will focus on background literature, the theoretical framework, the research design, data collection plans, as well as future research plans.

Cellitti, J. (2018, June), Exploring Design Failure in the Design Process: A Comparative Case Study of Young Engineering Students Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30485

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