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Mechanical Engineering Students’ Self-limiting Behaviors in Concept Generation

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Design Methodologies 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Jin Woo Lee California State University, Fullerton

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Dr. Jin Woo Lee received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan, and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Binghamton University. Dr. Lee’s research focuses on design theory and methodology, product design, medical device design, front-end design processes, and engineering education.

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Shanna R. Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Shanna Daly is an Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. She has a B.E. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University. Her research characterizes front-end design practices across the student to practitioner continuum and studies the impact of developed front-end design tools on design success.

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Engineering design requires addressing open-ended design problems. Concept generation occurs during the early phases of a design process where engineers consider potential concepts to address the design problem and these concepts are further iterated and combined to create final designs. During concept generation, the goal is to generate a large number of diverse concepts and consider many possible solutions without evaluating feasibility. However, engineering students face challenges in concept generation as they often consider a limited number of concepts that are similar to existing products with minor modifications. Minimizing the diversity of concepts can limit the possibility of generating novel, innovative solutions. While studies have investigated concept generation practices, questions remain on why engineering students limit divergence and become fixated. We conducted think-aloud studies to analyze mechanical engineering students’ concept generation behaviors. The think-aloud method asks research participants to verbalize their thought processes during a task, allowing researchers to capture the details of their behaviors. Ten mechanical engineering students were recruited and asked to generate potential solutions for a design problem. We analyzed patterns in students’ concept generation practices to uncover why they limited divergent thinking. Participants narrowed the problem that restricted potential solutions, eliminated potential ideas due to financial costs, directed themselves away from potential solutions outside of their knowledge, and focused on criticizing existing solutions that led them to suggest concepts that were minor improvements on those existing solutions. By understanding specific behaviors that lead to reducing the quantity and diversity of possible solutions, the results of the study can support engineering instructors to provide scaffolding as they provide lessons on concept generation for their students.

Lee, J. W., & Daly, S. R. (2021, July), Mechanical Engineering Students’ Self-limiting Behaviors in Concept Generation Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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