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Preliminary Findings From Coding Student Design Journals

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Understanding Students: Cognition

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.932.1 - 7.932.12



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Durward Sobek

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Session 1330

Preliminary Findings from Coding Student Design Journals

Durward K. Sobek, II Montana State University


Since Fall 2000, mechanical engineering students at Montana State University have been required to keep design journals of their senior design projects. We have now accumulated over 70 journals on 21 design projects. We developed a coding scheme to code the journal data by design activity (problem definition, idea generation, engineering analysis, and design refinement), design level (concept, system, detail), planning, and formal reporting. The scheme was then used to code approximately one-third of the journal data collected to date.

This paper will first describe the coding scheme and its development. It will then report some preliminary findings from the journal coding. Specifically, we will show that journal data can be used to produce time profiles of design activity over the course of the projects, estimates of the proportion of time spent in activity associated with the different codes, and comparisons of student processes to “good” design processes as documented in the literature. These findings should be of interest to design educators interested in assessing design processes. Finally, the paper will posit a number of hypotheses that arise from the data, for future consideration.

1. Introduction

Design is one of the quintessential characteristics of the practicing engineer. It is perfectly appropriate, then, for it to hold a prominent position in engineering education—most engineering programs in this country culminate in a significant design project as the capstone of the degree program. Also, ABET places special emphasis on design in its accreditation evaluation criteria. 1

The activities that typically fall under the category “design” consist of analysis activities, that is, making some determination about an existing idea or solution, and synthesis activities— generating a new idea to address an identified problem. While a good deal of research has looked at design, and there is much we know about good design and good design processes, there is still much we do not understand about the synthesis process. Therefore, it seems if we want to help aspiring engineers become proficient designers, it behooves us to delve into the human synt hesis process, to really get at the basic fundamentals of what enables synthesis, what hinders it, and what tools and skills are requisite.

In 2000, I embarked on a project funded by the National Science Foundation to in part address some of these questions. The idea was to study the design processes students use in their senior Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Sobek, D. (2002, June), Preliminary Findings From Coding Student Design Journals Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10566

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