June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Design in Engineering Education
15.1120.1 - 15.1120.14
Student Preconceptions and Heuristics in Learning Design
One conundrum in teaching design is that students will learn and practice a design method and later abandon that method in favor of a “seat-of-the-pants” approach. It is as if they had not learned the method initially. This sequence of learning and then abandoning begs a question: “What went wrong in the initial learning?”
One major finding in the cognitive literature offers an answer to this question. The naïve preconceptions that students bring to a subject directly interfere with their learning.1,2 These preconceptions can interfere so strongly that some students don’t actually learn. When the learning session concludes, the students’ understanding reverts to their prior misconceptions. Consequently, in order for the new learning to take root, those preconceptions must be engaged and addressed during the learning. It seems reasonable that preconceptions affect design learning as well.
A number of disciplines (most notably physics3) have extensively identified common student misconceptions. These lists of misconceptions are discipline specific, that is, misconceptions in one discipline do not identify misconceptions in an unrelated discipline. However, once misconceptions are classified within a discipline, instructors can engage them as part of teaching the course.
This perspective highlights a fundamental hurdle for design instructors: students’ preconceptions about how to do design are not clearly identified. Without this knowledge, design instructors cannot systematically engage and address these preconceptions. Consequently, student learning in design is hampered.
The intent of this study was to identify preconceptions students bring to design and to frame them in terms of the cognitive literature. The preconceptions were explored using two sequential focus group discussions based on the questions, “What did you learn about design?” and “What did you need to un-learn to do design?”
The participants in this study had completed an intermediate level design class. The class used multiple design-build-test projects supported by lectures to teach design. The semester following this class, one design team was selected for the focus group discussions because they initially demonstrated low design ability but performed at a high level by the end of the term.
The data supported two findings:
1. Knowledge flows back to students from their own design as real-world constraints are enforced. As the students learn from their design, they develop a conceptual framework of how their design works or does not work. As this conceptual framework develops, misconceptions can also develop within that framework. These misconceptions can be very robust, require multiple interventions to resolve, and interfere with correct understanding of
Zemke, S. (2010, June), Student Preconceptions And Heuristics In Learning Design Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15814
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