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Student Learning in Multiple Prototype Cycles

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

The Best of Design in Engineering

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1185.1 - 25.1185.12



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Paper Authors


Steven C. Zemke Gonzaga University

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Steven Zemke is the Director of the Center for Engineering Design and Entrepreneurship at Gonzaga University. This center is chartered to enhance the design courses throughout the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Zemke teaches the mechanical design courses at Gonzaga. His area of research is the pedagogy of design with an emphasis on practically improving student learning.

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Student Learning in Multiple Prototype CyclesThere are striking differences between how new products are developed in industry and howengineering students are taught design in college. In industry new products are usuallydeveloped in multiple prototype phases. Each proto phase is composed of three sequentialstages: design, fabrication, and prototype testing. The testing of the first prototype usuallyuncovers shortcomings in the design. These shortcomings represent “learning from theprototype” and this learning drives the redesign during the subsequent proto phase. The processis shown in the figure below. Proto 1 Phase Proto 2 Phase Design Fabricate Test Re-design Fabricate Test e Period of learning from the prototypeIn contrast, design in school is usually taught with a single prototype phase. In this model, thefirst prototype is assembled and tested as the academic term ends. This has the potential ofmotivating the students to simply get the prototype working, rather than learn from the prototypewith the goal of redesigning the product. This course structure is diagrammed below. Learning from the prototype is “Single Chance” Proto Phase cut short or redirected Design Fabricate Test/Modify Proto NO Redesign until it “works” SEMESTER ENDSThe intent of this study was to characterize how a multiple prototype structure affects studentlearning.This study was conducted in a Mechanical Engineering design class that teaches the designprocess. Three separate design projects, each utilizing a proto1/proto2 structure, were completedduring the semester. During this course the students were required to write reflective learningjournals about what they had learned. These journals constituted 236 entries, totalingapproximately 25,000 words, where roughly two-thirds of the entries related to design. Thisvolume of data was coded to identify: 1. What the students had learned about their products and about the process of design. 2. When during the design cycle the learning had happened. 3. What pressures and/or motivators the design cycle had created.The data supported two findings (these are preliminary and will be refined as the data is codedanother time). First, many of the difficulties that students encountered in the first prototypedesign continued through the second prototype as well. For example, fixation on a particulardesign idea can persist through testing of the first prototype into the redesign of the secondprototype. Second, the students developed a growing awareness that oversights made during thedesign stage dominate the performance of the prototype. This was true even of secondprototypes redesigned based on testing of the first prototype.

Zemke, S. C. (2012, June), Student Learning in Multiple Prototype Cycles Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21942

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