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How Engineering Design Learning May be Improved: Thoughts, Practices, and Recommendations

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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

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Waddah Akili Iowa State University

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Waddah Akili has been in the academic arena for over 37 years. He has held academic positions at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Penna (66-69), at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia (69-87), and at the University of Qatar, Doha, Qatar (87-00). Professor Akili’s major field is geotechnical engineering and materials. His research work & experience include: characterization of arid and semi arid soils, piled foundations, pavement design & materials, and concrete durability. His interests also include: contemporary issues of engineering education in general, and those of the Middle East and the Arab Gulf States in particular.

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Design is widely considered to be the central activity of engineering. Also, it is known that engineering programs should graduate engineers who can design effectively to meet social and environmental needs. Though the role and perception of design across a wide range of educational institutions have improved markedly in recent years; however, both design faculty and design practitioners argue that further improvements are necessary. One of the defining characteristics of design is that there is rarely a single correct answer to an engineering problem but, rather, an optimal or acceptable solution leading to a final design, presented as the best possible balance between technical as well as non-technical constraints. These non-technical constraints typically involve economics, politics, social & environmental issues, ethics, etc. And, while professional practitioners generally accept this understanding of design, students, by enlarge, tend to interpret the engineering design process as an unambiguous and clearly defined process undergirded by rigidly applied principles and processes of “the scientific method.” Students’ vision and mis-concepts of design do require proper alignment with prevailing conditions on the ground. Undoubtedly, the start of any design course should be preceded by exposure to design thinking and related processes.

This proposed paper begins first, by briefly reviewing the role of design in engineering programs. Second, it outlines the current research on how design thinking processes could be taught and learned. Third, it explores the currently most-favored pedagogical model for teaching design, namely: Project-Based Learning (PBL). The paper identifies several contexts for PBL, along with some available data on it success. Finally, the paper raises some of the questions that should be answered to identify the most effective pedagogical practices of improving design learning.

Understanding the design process as a discipline-specific argumentative discourse strategy can help colleges improve engineering education with engineering graduates that are more rhetorically aware engineers. Importantly, these possibilities align well with ABET’s criteria for student learning outcomes.

Akili, W. (2018, June), How Engineering Design Learning May be Improved: Thoughts, Practices, and Recommendations Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31380

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