New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Design in Engineering Education
How and when do students use prototypes in engineering design?
Prototypes play an essential role in the product development process and enable designers to specify, meet and verify design and engineering challenges (Yang, 2005; Viswanathan et al., 2009; De Beer et al., 2009). To design solutions for today’s increasing demands and challenges, design processes must incorporate strategies to fully understand and account for the intended products’ objectives and stakeholders’ needs. One such strategy is the use of prototypes. The process of iteratively using prototypes in each phase of the development cycle has long been recognized as useful by professionals, yet informed beginners lack the background to use this technique to maximize their project outcome (De Beer et al., 2009). In addition, today’s engineering design curricula often view prototyping as a phase, an activity that typically occurs only once after engineering analysis. This may contribute to the underutilization of prototypes by students, who may be missing the greater potential of prototypes that expert designers benefit from.
The primary goal of this study was to examine how and when student designers use prototypes during the development cycle. We investigated how students used prototypes to understand their design problem, interact with stakeholders, define user requirements and engineering specifications, as well as how students attributed the use of prototypes to the success or failure of their design projects.
Sixteen capstone engineering design students from mechanical and biomedical engineering as well as an interdisciplinary design program participated in semi-structured interview sessions. The interview protocol was developed and refined based on prototyping literature and four rounds of pilot interviews. During the interviews, students were asked to describe their latest projects and reflect on their use of prototypes during the individual phases of the project. The interviews lasted approximately 90 minutes, were audio recorded and transcribed for analysis. Transcripts were analyzed through an open coding approach (Emerson, Fretz & Shaw) using NVivo, where patterns were identified and developed into themes. Two researchers developed codes together based on a subset of the interview transcripts. They then separately coded the remaining interviews to check for inter-rater reliability.
Preliminary analysis of the study data shows that the use of, and the motivation for, using prototypes varied among the students in our sample even though they had essentially the same levels of engineering design education. Students often used prototypes only when instructed to do so, and the iterative use of prototypes often only occurred out of necessity, when students realized their concept did not work as expected. Few students built prototypes intentionally to iterate on their idea. For several students, establishing and maintaining communication with stakeholders proved to be challenging, however the students who did use prototypes during stakeholder interactions found them beneficial.
Preliminary findings provide examples of how prototypes influenced the development of design ideas and the benefits and challenges students identified when employing prototypes during their design projects. These initial findings suggest that while students are aware of the impact that prototypes can have on all phases of the design process, few students used them frequently or intentionally. This suggests students might benefit from a more purposeful and iterative use of prototypes to support all phases of the design process. We propose that this research could be expanded further to develop pedagogy that facilitates the integration of prototyping techniques into engineering design education.
Deininger, M., & Sienko, K. H., & Daly, S. R., & Lee, J. C. (2016, June), Student use of prototypes to engage stakeholders during design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27348
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