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Student Perspectives on Capstone Design Learning

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Capstone Design

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1425.1 - 26.1425.12



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Paper Authors


Ben David Lutz Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Ben Lutz is a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. His research interests include capstone design teaching and learning, mentoring in design and project work, student experiences of senior design, and the transition from senior design into the workplace. His current work is related to understanding how students describe their own learning in capstone and how that learning supports the transition from engineering school to professional practice.

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Mike Ekoniak Virginia Tech


Marie C Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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Courtney S Smith-Orr Virginia Tech

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Courtney S. Smith is a PhD candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Her research interests span the mentoring experiences of African American women in engineering, campus climate and best practices for diversity and inclusion in the STEM classroom.

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Student Perspectives on Capstone Design LearningCapstone courses represent a critical juncture in engineering students’ careers. Whilemuch of an undergraduate engineering curriculum tends to focus on technical content,capstone courses mimic authentic engineering design experiences, in which studentsoften have opportunities to address realistic open-ended projects and interact with realclients and industry professionals. Further, in many programs capstone courses play acritical role in developing professional skills necessary for effective engineering practice,including project management, communication, and collaboration. Reports by severalresearchers indicate that capstone faculty treat such professional skills as central learningoutcomes. However, few studies have sought to explore student perspectives on thelearning that occurs in these project-based environments. To address this gap and broadenour understanding of student experiences in capstone design, we ask: How do students incapstone courses describe their learning gains?To address this question, we present findings from a larger multi-case study of capstoneteaching and learning. The full data set for each case includes classroom observations,faculty interviews, and student interviews gathered at multiple points in time across thecapstone experience; this paper focuses specifically on data from student interviews andfocus groups. These interviews explored students’ perceptions of capstone design,including their experiences with mentors, the challenges they faced, their beliefs aboutwhat they learned, and their perceived level of preparation for the future. Interviews wereaudio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using an open coding process.Preliminary findings suggest that students perceive a wide range of both technical andprofessional learning gains, many of which align with intended course outcomes. Overall,six salient themes emerged in students’ discussion of their learning: 1) development of anengineering identity; 2) knowledge of the design process; 3) connections to the “realworld”; 4) project management; 5) self-directed learning; and 6) teamwork skills.Analysis of learning in capstone design suggest that although critical contextualboundaries between engineering school and engineering practice may be present, studentsrecognize the relevance of the experience more generally. This research improvesunderstanding of the processes by which student learning outcomes are achieved incapstone design courses.

Lutz, B. D., & Ekoniak, M., & Paretti, M. C., & Smith-Orr, C. S. (2015, June), Student Perspectives on Capstone Design Learning Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24762

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015