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Phenomenographic Study of Human-Centered Design: Educational Implications

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Research on Engineering Design Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1156.1 - 22.1156.18



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Paper Authors


Carla B. Zoltowski Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Carla B. Zoltowski, Ph.D., is Education Administrator of the EPICS Program at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering and Ph.D. in Engineering Education, all from Purdue University. She has served as a lecturer in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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William C. Oakes Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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William Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program at Purdue University, one of the founding faculty members of the School of Engineering Education and a courtesy faculty member in Mechanical Engineering and Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. He is an fellow of the ASEE and NSPE. .He was the first engineer to win the Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning. He was a co-recipient of the 2005 National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education for his work in EPICS.

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Monica E Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Monica E. Cardella is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education and is the Co-Director of Assessment Research for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE) at Purdue University. Dr. Cardella earned a B.Sc. in Mathematics from the University of Puget Sound and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering at the University of Washington. At the University of Washington she worked with the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the LIFE Center (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments). She was a CASEE Postdoctoral Engineering Education Researcher at the Center for Design Research at Stanford before beginning her appointment at Purdue. Her research interests include: learning in informal and out-of-school time settings, pre-college engineering education, design thinking, mathematical thinking, and assessment research. She also believes in taking a human-centered approach to designing engineering education experiences.

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Phenomenographic Study of Human-Centered Design: Educational Implications Design is a central and distinguishing activity of engineering and one of the core criteriafor evaluating and accrediting engineering programs. Design is also a subject area that posesmany challenges for faculty to begin with and incorporating human-centered design approaches--approaches in which designers have as a focus the people they are designing for--posesadditional challenges. Human-centered approaches to design contribute to innovations inengineering design and have been shown to increase productivity, improve quality, reduce errors,improve acceptance of new products, and reduce development costs. In today’s globallycompetitive economy, it is more important than ever to develop effective design skills within theundergraduate years. According to Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, in order forengineering graduates to make an impact in the global workforce, they must develop “designthinking”. How is it, then, that engineering programs should go about developing this “designthinking” and the skills needed for human-centered design? What experiences contribute most tothe students’ learning of human-centered design and the development of an understanding of theuser and other stakeholders? As a first step to answering these questions, a phenomenographicstudy was conducted that explored the ways in which students understand and experiencehuman-centered design. Analysis of the data yielded seven qualitatively different ways in whichthe students experienced human-centered design; these seven categories of description formed atwo-dimensional outcome space. The variations themselves and the relationship of the differentcategories have educational implications. For example, the study found that i) students’understanding of the user and ii) their ability to integrate that into their design are related in thedevelopment of more comprehensive ways of experiencing human-centered design, and aconception of both aspects is needed. Furthermore, critical or immersive experiences involvingreal clients and users were important in allowing the students to experience human-centereddesign in more comprehensive ways. Understanding the ways in which students experience human-centered design isimportant to develop effective design learning experiences to help cultivate student’sunderstanding of human-centered design. This paper will present the educational implicationsidentified by the study of the qualitatively different ways in which the students experiencedhuman-centered design, such as the ones described above. These findings have the potential togreatly enhance the way engineers learn design and the other attributes being called for byABET, the NAE’s Engineer of 2020 and industry in today’s global economy.

Zoltowski, C. B., & Oakes, W. C., & Cardella, M. E. (2011, June), Phenomenographic Study of Human-Centered Design: Educational Implications Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18496

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