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Students' Perceptions Of The Differences Between Design And Non Design Classes

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.399.1 - 1.399.6

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Paper Authors

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Karen L. Tonso

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 0 6 3 0

Students’ Perceptions of the Differences Between Design and Non-Design Classes

Karen L. Tonso University of Colorado-Boulder

Engineering design classes represent one of several different ways to reform engineering education to make it more responsive to the needs of industry and students. In design classes, students work in collaborative teams to develop a solution to an open-ended problem - one having several feasible solutions. The open-ended - problems incorporated in design classes are real-world, practical problems typical of those many young engineers will encounter in their first few years of practice. Thus, design classes fall into a growing category of classroom experiences that provide opportunities for students to engage in authentic activities, those of their intended profession. However, goals of design classes differ markedly from those of traditional engineering (non-design) classes which raises questions not only about students’ perceptions of design classes, but also about how students’ perceptions of what constitutes “real” engineering coursework constrain students’ design work. As suggested by Tonso and Catalano (1995), taken-for-granted past practices - such as traditional coursework - constrain reform in engineering education. As part of a larger research investigation into the development of engineering identities among students participating in design work (Tonso, in progress), I am studying how engineering students are embedded in engineering education, what constraints exist to students’ becoming engineers, and how those constraints vary due to gender, age, or prior experiences. The survey reported in this paper represents a potiion of my efforts to investigate these constraints by studying students’ perceptions about design and non-design engineering classes.

The Survev

In the survey (Figure 1), students gave demographics information (age, sex, citizenship, ethnicity, SAT or ACT scores, high school and college grade-point averages) and then responded to the same set of 13 statements first considering their experiences in core (non-design) classes and then considering their experiences in design classes. A five-point Likert scale was used, ranging from 1 = “strongly disagree” to 3 = “neither agree nor disagree” to 5 = “strongly agree.” There were 274 students surveyed during the 1995 spring semester: 71 freshmen in design classes, 70 freshmen in non-design classes, 62 seniors in design classes, and71 juniors or seniors in non-design classes. Because the engineering core classes that students take in their senior year are often different for each engineering specialty, I surveyed juniors enrolled in a core engineering class required of all students and not one specific to an engineering specialty. By administering the survey in core and design classes meeting concurrently, I eliminated the possibility that a student might complete more than one survey.

Analysis of the data used statistical procedures to compare selected means using two-sample T-tests. Prior to executing the two-sample T-test, a two-sample F-test for variances was run to determine if the variances were equal or not, and then the appropriate T-test (assuming equal variances or assuming unequal variances) applied. In the tables that follow, p. refers to the mean for the data set and P the one-tail probability that the two means differ enough to be statistically significant. In addition to comparing students’ responses about design and non- design classes, statistical analysis focused on contrasts between women and men students, across academic level (first-year versus third- and fourth-year classes), and on whether students were enrolled in design or non-design classes when they took the survey.

Com~arison of Students’ Res~onses for Core and Desire Classes

Students gave distinctly different responses for 10 of the 13 items, comparing core to design classes using the T-test. For the other three items, students perceived core and design classes similarly.

@iii’ 1996 ASEE Annual Conference Proceedings } ‘e.+,~yy: .

Tonso, K. L. (1996, June), Students' Perceptions Of The Differences Between Design And Non Design Classes Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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