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Studying Changes using Concept Maps in First-Year Students' Understanding of the Engineering Design Process

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

The Best of First Year Programs: Best Paper Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Haolin Zhu Arizona State University

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Dr. Haolin Zhu earned her BEng in Engineering Mechanics from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and her Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from Cornell University, with a focus on computational solid mechanics. After receiving her Ph.D., Dr. Zhu joined Arizona State University as a full time Lecturer and became part of the freshman engineering education team in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She currently holds the title of Senior Lecturer and is the recipient of the Fulton Outstanding Lecturer Award. She focuses on designing the curriculum and teaching in the freshman engineering program. She is also involved in the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program, the ASU ProMod project, the Engineering Projects in Community Service program, the Engineering Futures program, the Global Freshman Academy, and the ASU Kern Project. Dr. Zhu also designs and teaches courses in mechanical engineering at ASU, including Mechanics of Materials, Mechanical Design, Mechanism Analysis and Design, Finite Element Analysis, etc. She was part of a team that designed a largely team and activity based online Introduction to Engineering course, as well as a team that developed a unique MOOC introduction to engineering course for the Global Freshman Academy. Her Ph.D. research focuses on multi-scale multiphase modeling and numerical analysis of coupled large viscoelastic deformation and fluid transport in swelling porous materials, but she is currently interested in various topics in the field of engineering education, such as innovative teaching pedagogies for increased retention and student motivation; innovations in non-traditional delivery methods, incorporation of the Entrepreneurial Mindset in the engineering curriculum and its impact.

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Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh Arizona State University

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Tirupalavanam G. Ganesh is Assistant Dean of Engineering Education at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He is Tooker Professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport, & Energy. His research interests include educational research methods, communication of research, and k-16+ engineering education. Ganesh’s research is largely focused on studying the impact of k-12 and undergraduate curricula, and teaching-learning processes in both the formal and informal settings. He is also studying entry and persistence in engineering of first generation, women, and under-represented ethnic minorities.

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Connor Sonnier Arizona State University

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Connor Sonnier is an undergraduate researcher and a BS student in Computer Science at Arizona State University. He is also a student in the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program with a research interest in engineering education.

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Studying Changes using Concept Maps in First Year Students' Understanding of the Engineering Design Process


This Complete Evidence-Based Practice paper investigates how first year students’ understanding of the engineering design process changes in a design-based Introduction to Engineering course. This fifteen-week two-credit course introduces the engineering design process and provides students with opportunities to practice applying the engineering design process. Students were engaged in a two-week conceptual team design challenge and a ten-week hands-on team design project. The goal of this work is to understand how students’ understanding of the engineering design process changes before and after engaging in these design activities.


Concept maps [1] are graphical node-arc representations that depict relationships among concepts. They have been used quite extensively both as an instructional tool and an assessment tool in science and engineering classrooms. Concept mapping was chosen as the tool to evaluate students’ understanding of the engineering design process because compared to other tools, it is independent of any design project; can be easily done at the individual level; and its open-endedness requires students to internalize the knowledge, identify key concepts that are relevant, and document relationships between the concepts, demonstrating knowledge of the engineering design process at multiple levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.


In two sections of this course taught in the Fall 2018 semester with approximately 40 students each, students individually created visual representations in the form of concept maps to show their understanding of the engineering design process three times during the semester, once before the course started, once after the two-week design challenge and once at the end of semester after the ten-week design project. Qualitative research methods were used to analyze these concept maps. Two researchers identified themes drawn from a theoretical framework about the engineering design process. And these researchers then independently coded the data, compared and discussed discrepancies until agreement was reached to ensure inter-rater reliability.


A preliminary thematic analysis of the data showed that students noted more concepts and provided specific details related to more themes in the second concept map compared to the first one. For example, about a little over 50% of the students mentioned ‘identify the problem’ in their first concept map but majority of them did not provide any details while above 90% of them mentioned ‘identify’ and/or ‘define’ in their second concept map and many provided specific details such as ‘consult customer’, ‘needs’, ‘wants’, ‘collect information about the problem’, ‘POV statements’, ‘goals’, ‘requirements’, ‘criteria’, etc.

In the full paper, specifics about the design-based Introduction to Engineering course will be described. Research aims, methods, and a complete analysis and results will also be presented and discussed.


[1] J. Turns, C. J. Atman, R. Adams, "Concept maps for engineering education: A cognitively motivated tool supporting varied assessment functions", IEEE Trans. Educ., vol. 43, pp. 164-173, 2000.

Zhu, H., & Ganesh, T. G., & Sonnier, C. (2019, June), Studying Changes using Concept Maps in First-Year Students' Understanding of the Engineering Design Process Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33320

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