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Mapping as Design Thinking: Can GIS Help Engineering Students Approach Design?

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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

Conference Session

Studies in Engineering Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Jessie Marshall Zarazaga Southern Methodist University, Lyle School of Engineering

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Jessie Zarazaga teaches GIS and Sustainability and Development in the Lyle School of Engineering at SMU. Working across the boundaries of urbanism, landscape mapping, and public engagement, Zarazaga explores ways to connect culture and community to place. Using GIS and participatory community mapping, she explores the impact of civil and environmental choices on the design of the sustainable city. Trained in architecture and urban design, her research spans education and practice, working on the integration of community research into project based learning. Her work overlaps areas of GIS mapping, global sustainable urbanism, design and creativity. She undertook a Fulbright in Valparaíso, Chile, to investigate, and map, devices of landscape as inspirations for the orders of community space.

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Spatial site-design, accessed through GIS mapping, teaches three-dimensional data analysis skills invaluable for the contemporary engineering student. Integrating design-thinking strategies into such spatial processes allows students additionally to access the cognitive operations of creative design processes. This study will investigate student responses to an innovative site-design workshop in which GIS mapping becomes a tactical device for introducing both site planning and design-thinking to civil & environmental engineering students.

After a pre-test site-design exercise, 48 undergraduate engineering students were given a basic introduction to layered mapping (GIS) techniques, exploring both digital and analogue strategies for divergent exploration of site-design. In the follow-up post-test design exercise, students were taken through a more structured design-thinking approach for a similar site design project as the pre-test. This mixed-methods study explores student self-assessment survey responses to the two design exercises, as well as their written design commentaries, evaluating them for changes in attitude as well as in approach. Data show that even in such a short introductory exercise, students reported an increase not only in GIS skills, but in creative self-confidence, and their responses revealed a more iterative design process, with generally higher values given by the students to their later-developing ideas over a fixation on preliminary concepts.

The value of such a teaching model is that student engineers are able to gain access to open-ended creative design skills, widely accepted as critical to the educational development of the engineer. Furthermore, this exploration, rather than an additive course or exercise, is integrated into valuable GIS mapping and environmental site design coursework.

Zarazaga, J. M. (2018, June), Mapping as Design Thinking: Can GIS Help Engineering Students Approach Design? Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30788

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