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Reinforcing a “Design Thinking” Course by Restructuring Student-Instructor Interactions

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1035.1 - 24.1035.16



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Paper Authors


Ang Liu University of Southern California

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Dr. Liu is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow and Manager of Viterbi iPodia Program at the University of Southern California.

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Stephen Y. Lu University of Southern California

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Dr. Lu is the David Packard Chair in Manufacturing Engineering,
Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, and Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Director of Viterbi iPodia Program, at University of Southern California.

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A Conceptual Model of How to Structure A Design Thinking CourseOver the last decade, the study of design thinking is drawing increasing attentions in bothacademia and industry. As a result of this trend, a number of design thinking courses have beendeveloped by different organizations. Nevertheless, to date, relatively few efforts have beendevoted to conceptually describe what constitutes a design thinking course and how it differsfrom the traditional engineering design courses. Based on Vygotsky’s Zone of ProximalDevelopment, this paper conceptually models the design thinking course as a system thatfunctions to gradually reduce the distance between a student’s actual design capability asdetermined by his/her independent problem solving, and the student’s potential design capabilityas determined by his/her problem solving under instructor/expert’s guidance.The IDEF0 methodology is used to describe the functions of a design thinking course withrespect to its input, output, mechanism, and control. The input of a design thinking course refersto a series of domain independent design principles being lectured by the instructor. Unliketraditional design courses that teach students design theories and methods to solve specificproblems, a design thinking course teaches domain independent principles that are generallyapplicable to different design problems. The output is student’s actual cognitive faculty to solvedesign-specific problems independently (without external guidance from instructor/expert). Themechanism of the design thinking course means the social interactions between instructor andstudents. Unlike traditional design courses that are characterized by a linear transmission ofknowledge from instructor to students, the design thinking course features social interactionsthrough which knowledge is being constructed with texts and in contexts. In a design thinkingcourse, the social interaction between student(s) and instructor(s) develops in a non-linear,iterative, and abductive manner over time. The control of the design thinking course refers to thedistance between student’s potential capability with his/her actual capability. This is to say that,the zone of proximal development controls the lever of social interactions within a design course:as student’s actual design capability increases, instructor’s engagement level decreases.Based on the above conceptual model, a practical strategy of how to structure a design thinkingcourse is proposed, which consists of five activities: (1) instructor prepares student’s mind byintroducing some basic design principles; (2) instructor engages students in a design process byassigning some simple tasks for students to practice individually; (3) students interact withexpert designer to gain insights, for instance, instructor guides students to jointly go through adesign process; (4) students review, reformulate the above guided design process by themselves;(5) students share with the class their unique design thinking process/outcome. A case study ispresented to detail the practical deployment of the proposed model on a graduate design course,namely “Advanced Mechanical Design – Innovative Design Thinking”, that is offered in a top 10U.S. engineering school. The assessment of student’s ideation effectiveness (i.e., based on themetrics of novelty, variety, quantity, and quality) indicates that the new teaching strategy resultsin a significant increase of student’s conceptual design performance.

Liu, A., & Lu, S. Y. (2014, June), Reinforcing a “Design Thinking” Course by Restructuring Student-Instructor Interactions Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22968

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