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How Do First-Year Engineering Students Experience Ambiguity in Engineering Design Problems: The Development of a Self-Report Instrument

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Classroom Practice

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Emily Dringenberg Kansas State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Dringenberg is an instructor and academic advisor for first-year, general engineering students at Kansas State University. She holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering (Kansas State '08), a MS in Industrial Engineering (Purdue '14) and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education (Purdue ’15). Her doctoral work focused on using qualitative methods to explore the experiences of students engaging with engineering design problems, and she is currently working to develop research-based introductory curriculum for her students centered on engineering problem solving. Additionally, her research interests include transfer of learning, growth mindset, personal epistemology, and design learning.

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Ruth E. H. Wertz Valparaiso University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Wertz is an Assistant Professor of General Engineering at Valparaiso University, located in Valparaiso Indiana. She has earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Trine University, a M.S. in Civil Engineering from Purdue University, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education also from Purdue University. Dr. Wertz is a registered professional engineer with over 5 years of industry experience in Geotechnical Engineering. In addition Dr. Wertz has over 10 years classroom teaching experience across multiple face-to-face and distance formats. Her research interests include curriculum design, active learning pedagogies, and online engineering education.

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Design is widely recognized as a keystone of engineering practice. Within the context of engineering education, design has been categorized as a type of ill-structured problem solving that is crucial for engineering students to engage with. Improving undergraduate engineering education requires a better understanding of the ways in which students experience learning to engage with ill-structured problems in the form of engineering design. With special attention to the experiences of first-year engineering students, prior exploratory work identified two critical themes that organized ways students’ experienced design from less to more comprehensive: the way students perceive the role of multiple perspectives and the way students react to ambiguity.

The goal of current (work-in-progress) research is to develop and pilot a self-report instrument to assess students’ relation to the key thresholds identified in prior research at the completion of an ill-structured design project within the context of undergraduate engineering education. The specific research questions addressed in this study are 1) if the piloted self-report instrument can be used to identify discrete constructs, and 2) how these constructs align with prior qualitative research findings.

The objective of this study will be addressed using a quantitative exploratory research design. Items for the self-report Likert-scaled instrument were designed based upon prior exploratory qualitative research. The instrument was disseminated to a total of 214 first-year engineering students. Exploratory factor analysis was used to identify the constructs that emerge from the self-report data, and these constructs were compared to the outcome spaced identified previously.

The results of this investigation will be used to help advance progress towards identifying needs for intervention or explicit instruction related to engineering design, tracking student growth over time, and, with further development, providing evidence for ABET student outcomes.

Dringenberg, E., & Wertz, R. E. H. (2016, June), How Do First-Year Engineering Students Experience Ambiguity in Engineering Design Problems: The Development of a Self-Report Instrument Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25474

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