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Exploring If and How Knowledge of a Humanitarian Disaster Affects Student Design Thinking

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Research on Engineering Design Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.616.1 - 25.616.24



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Paper Authors


Ryan C. Campbell University of Washington

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Ryan Campbell is pursuing his doctorate through the University of Washington Graduate School’s interdisciplinary Individual PhD (IPhD) program, in which he combines faculty expertise in the College of Engineering and the College of Education to create a degree program in the emerging field of engineering education. Campbell earned his M.S. in electrical engineering from Sungkyunkwan University, Republic of Korea, and his B.S. in engineering science from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colo. Campbell’s research interests include engineering education, ethics, humanitarian engineering, and computer modeling of electric power and renewable energy systems.

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Ken Yasuhara University of Washington

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Ken Yasuhara was a research team member for the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education’s Academic Pathways Study and is currently a Research Scientist at the University of Washington’s Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching. His research and teaching interests include engineering design, major choice, gender equity, and professional portfolios. He completed an A.B. in computer science at Dartmouth College and a Ph.D. in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. When he finds the time, he enjoys cooking, photography, music, bicycle repair, and cycling in the Seattle rain (instead of owning a car).

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Cynthia J. Atman University of Washington

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Cynthia J. Atman is a professor in human-centered design and engineering, Founding Director of the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT), Director of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE), and the inaugural holder of the Mitchell T. & Lella Blanche Bowie Endowed Chair at the University of Washington. She earned her doctorate in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University and joined the UW in 1998 after seven years on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research in engineering education focuses on engineering design learning with a particular emphasis on issues of design context. She is a Fellow of AAAS and ASEE, was the 2002 recipient of the ASEE Chester F. Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education, and received the 2009 UW David B. Thorud Leadership Award.

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Sheri Sheppard Stanford University

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Sheri Sheppard, Ph.D., P.E., is professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University. Besides teaching both undergraduate and graduate design and education-related classes at Stanford University, she conducts research on weld and solder-connect fatigue and impact failures, fracture mechanics, applied finite element analysis, and engineering education. In addition, from 1999-2008, she served as a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, leading the Foundation’s engineering study (as reported in Educating Engineers: Designing for the Future of the Field). Sheppard’s graduate work was done at the University of Michigan.

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Exploring the Influence of Humanitarian Context on Engineering Students’ Design ConsiderationsAbstractCurrent national priorities in engineering education in the U.S., such as those advanced by ABETaccreditation criteria and the NAE’s Engineer of 2020 reports, emphasize the importance oftraining engineers to situate their work more broadly. Due to factors such as globalization,climate change, and even issues of social justice, engineers must learn to include and addressconsiderations beyond the traditional engineering purview of the technical and economic. Ethicsand the social/societal impacts of engineering, for example, rarely find much space in acurriculum packed with technical “bread and butter” topics. One possible way to expandcoverage of these important broader considerations, and thus to provide opportunities for broaderthinking, is to design course materials using different background contexts. In this paper weexplore the question: How does a humanitarian design context, as opposed to the moretraditional contexts provided by industrial, commercial, or military applications of engineering,influence engineering students’ design considerations?This paper presents a qualitative study being performed on a subset of longitudinal cohort datafrom the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education’s (CAEE) Academic PathwaysStudy (APS). Interviews of third-year engineering students were conducted at four institutions inthe U.S. during the spring of 2006. These interviews took place immediately following a shortdesign-scoping task (the analysis of which is reported elsewhere) that read “Over the summer theMidwest experienced massive flooding of the Mississippi River. What factors would you takeinto account in designing a retaining wall system for the Mississippi?” Semi-structured post-taskinterviews then asked the students to reflect on their design task responses, and includedquestions about their knowledge of Hurricane Katrina and the influence it might have had ontheir responses. Specifically, the interview question that provides the data analyzed in this paperasked: “Did what you know about Hurricane Katrina affect how you approached the Mississippiflooding activity today? If so, please describe.” Given the qualitative nature of the data and theexploratory nature of our research question, analysis follows a descriptive phenomenographicapproach in order to capture the breadth and diversity of responses.Preliminary thematic analysis of all transcripts from one institution shows that while manystudents (9 of the 24 who were asked at this school) indicated their knowledge of HurricaneKatrina did not influence their design task responses (see Table 1), others reported a variety ofways that it affected their thinking to varying degrees (see Table 2), including that it helpedthem to remember and consider the societal impacts of engineering design and the importance ofprotecting human life. Our findings to date suggest several things, including 1) that manyengineering students at the analyzed institution did not have much knowledge of Katrina and/ordid not recognize its similarities with the design task (both of which are supported by theinterview data), and 2) that non-traditional engineering contexts, such as humanitarianapplications of engineering, may have pedagogical value for the teaching and learning of broadthinking skills such as those required to address issues of ethics and social justice.Table 1: Responses to Question of If Knowledge Table 2: Indications of How Knowledge of Katrina Affected Design Tasks of Katrina Affected Design Tasks Code** Description Number of Description (student response indicating:) Responses†† Number of Code* (student response Environment environmental concerns or impacts 4 Responses indicating:) Protect Life protection of human life 4 Katrina did NOT affect People consideration of people (non-mortality related) 3 No performance of the design 9 Cost cost issues or economics 3 task Wall Strength wall strength as a technical design consideration 3 Katrina definitely affected notions of making it real (legitimizing or Made It Real 3 (2) Yes performance of the design 6 providing a way to visualize) task Societal Impacts societal impacts 3 (2) climate or weather as a technical design Climate/Weather 2 Katrina had a little bit of consideration A Little effect (i.e., with a positive or 5 Wall Aesthetics wall aesthetics as a technical design consideration 2 surprised connotation) Force of Hurricane force of hurricane as a tech. design consideration 1 Katrina did not have much Need Accurate Info the need for accurate design info / specifications 1 Not Much effect (i.e., with a negative 5 Politics political considerations or impacts 1 or depreciating connotation) Population Density population density as a tech. design consideration 1 Root Causes the importance of addressing root causes 1 TOTAL 25† Unintended unintended consequences 1* The codes in this table are mutually exclusive (i.e., each Consequences interviewee is assigned one and only one code). Urgency project timeline and urgency 1† The total number of responses exceeds the number of Wall Height wall height as a technical design consideration 1 interviewees who were asked the protocol question because one student who was not asked the question spontaneously Wall Length wall length as a technical design consideration 1 mentioned Katrina as affecting her design task response. Wall Lifetime wall lifetime as a technical design consideration 1 Wall Quality wall quality as a technical design consideration 1 Water Height water height as a technical design consideration 1 Worst-case considering worst-case scenarios 1 TOTAL CODES: TOTAL 40 (13) 22 ** The codes in this table are NOT mutually exclusive (i.e., many interviewees expressed more than one way Karina affected their design task response). †† The number of responses equals the number of different interviewees except where a second number is given in parentheses, indicating the actual number of interviewees.

Campbell, R. C., & Yasuhara, K., & Atman, C. J., & Sheppard, S. (2012, June), Exploring If and How Knowledge of a Humanitarian Disaster Affects Student Design Thinking Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21373

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