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Iterating on Students' Perceptions of Iteration in the Design Process: An Exploratory Study

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Design Tools and Skill Development

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Steven Eric Meyer Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Steven Meyer is studying Mechanical Engineering at Olin College of Engineering. He is an active member of the college's SAE BAJA team.

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Alexandra Coso Strong Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering Orcid 16x16

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Alexandra Coso Strong is an assistant professor of systems design and engineering at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Prior to starting a faculty position at Olin, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. She completed her Ph.D. in 2014 in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech. Alexandra received her B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from MIT and her M.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. Her research interests include engineering design education (especially in regards to the design of complex systems), student preparation for post-graduation careers, approaches for supporting education research-to-practice.

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Explorations of experienced designers demonstrate how these designers employ iterative methods to refine their understanding of a problem and to improve their designs based on feedback from, for example, prototyping or testing. In contrast, many novice designers do not perceive iteration as an important activity within the design process. These novices tend to take a linear approach to design, completing a set of tasks in a specific order and not revisiting, for instance, the requirements or earlier prototypes to learn and improve their designs. Previous studies have also found many students discuss iteration as a difficult design activity, posing questions like how long should I iterate for and when am I done iterating. Yet, by the end of their design experience, novice designers’ perspectives of iteration tend to shift, viewing iteration as one of the most important design activities. Given this shift and the critical role of iteration within design practice, the purpose of this study is to explore iteration more deeply and uncover students’ perceptions about how this aspect of design is related to the broader design process.

Students within a senior level aerospace engineering design course at a large public university were given an open ended survey prompt to document their design process in mid-way through the course. Their response could be drawn, written, or created using sticky notes. The students were then asked to use a list of provided design activity terminology, based on previous research, to describe their design processes as well as examples of particular design activities within that process. The resulting 70 design processes were explored using an open coding methodology, where two researchers completed an iterative process of category development using existing literature to refine the emerging categories. The resulting set of categories describe how students perceive the role of iteration, when iteration occurs and how it relates to other design activities within the process.

Preliminary results show that students perceive iteration explicitly occurring once or not at all during the design process. When iteration did occur, it was most common in the late stages of the process with rare occurrences at the beginning. In addition, the students discussed using iteration to improve the results of mathematical models, as opposed to, for instance, supporting their understanding of the problem. The results of this study demonstrate the need for additional research to explore how iteration is defined and how to support students’ understanding of the diverse uses of iteration within design. Recommendations for future research directions will be presented in the paper along with implications for design educators who wish to further develop their students’ understanding of and ability to iterate.

Meyer, S. E., & Strong, A. C. (2017, June), Iterating on Students' Perceptions of Iteration in the Design Process: An Exploratory Study Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28595

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