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Investigating Student Misconceptions In The Design Process Using Multidimensional Scaling

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.663.1 - 6.663.9



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Paper Authors

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Ronald Miller

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Ruth Streveler

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Session 2630

Investigating Student Misconceptions in the Design Process Using Multidimensional Scaling Ruth A. Streveler, Ronald L. Miller Colorado School of Mines


In this study, multidimensional scaling (MDS) was used to investigate how chemical engineering seniors view the concept of “design” at the beginning and end of a capstone design course. We discuss how the MDS results may indicate where students possess misconceptions about “design” and how this information can be used to improve design instruction in the classroom.


The design process is a cornerstone of engineering and is a common subject of engineering education research [1]. How well do chemical engineering seniors, on the threshold of their professional careers, “know” this key concept? How can engineering education tell if students misunderstand the concept? These are the questions tackled by this study.

A basic premise of our work is that the concept “design” cannot be viewed in isolation. Research in cognitive psychology has well established that people learn by creating a network of meanings among concepts [2]. For example, a person who thinks of the word “dog,” might view that term in connection with terms relating to other domesticated animals, with memories about the family dog, with certain knowledge about the behavior of dogs. These networks of meanings are sometimes called “cognitive structures.” These cognitive structures do not remain static, but change as one becomes more expert in a field. For example, Chi and her associates found that novices in physics (college freshmen enrolled in a physics course) used superficial characteristics (such as the presence of a pulley) to categorize physics problems, while experts in physics (professors and PhD students) categorized the same physics problems according to deeper characteristics, such as the principles used to solve the problems (for example, Newton’s Second Law of Motion) [3].

Are the connections made in one’s cognitive structure ever incorrect? From a scientific view point the answer is “Definitely.” Educational researchers often call “incorrectly” connected terms “misconceptions.” A great deal of education research has been devoted to the study of misconceptions, and how these “faulty” ideas hamper students from learning scientifically correct information [4]. An example of a misconception often held by engineering students is that a chemical reaction stops when equilibrium is reached.

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Miller, R., & Streveler, R. (2001, June), Investigating Student Misconceptions In The Design Process Using Multidimensional Scaling Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9483

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