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Teaching And Assessing Engineering Design: A Review Of The Research

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



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Page Numbers

3.529.1 - 3.529.7

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Susan Campbell

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Carol L. Colbeck

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

Session Number 3530

Teaching and Assessing Engineering Design: A Review of the Research

Susan Campbell Carol L. Colbeck The Pennsylvania State University

According to the National Academy of Sciences (1995), undergraduate engineering education in the United States currently focuses on the study of engineering science at the expense of design. In a brief history of engineering design education, Eder (1991) explains that in the 1950s the engineering curricula shifted from a focus on teaching students about technology used in industry to an emphasis on engineering science including math, physics, and chemistry. He contends that faculty began to become more research-oriented and institutions of higher education placed less value on industry experience among faculty at roughly the same time. Eder argues that these factors contributed to the recent lack of emphasis on design skills and abilities in engineering curricula. He attributes renewed attention to design in curricula to a 1985 National Science Foundation initiative that resulted in funding to improve undergraduate engineering design education.

The Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology (ABET) and many industry representatives join the National Academy of Sciences in calling for a renewed emphasis on the development of design skills among undergraduate engineering students. ABET stipulates that graduates of accredited engineering programs demonstrate skills and competencies such as an “ability to design a system, component, or process; an ability to function on multidisciplinary teams; an ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems;...[and] an ability to communicate effectively” (ASEE Prism, 1997, p. 41). Likewise, industry representatives emphasize that undergraduate engineering students should develop an understanding of the design process as well as the ability to work in teams, communicate effectively, think critically, and solve problems (Rhoads, et al., 1995; Coleman, 1996).

This paper begins with a definition of engineering design followed by a summary of the research on teaching design and assessing student design competence and concludes with implications for future research to improve engineering education.

Definition of engineering design

Engineering design is complex problem solving (Lewis & Samuel, 1989) that involves generating and evaluating specifications to achieve objectives and satisfy constraints (Dym, 1994). This definition implies that: (1) engineering design is a cognitive process that can be modeled and understood; (2) representations exist for both the form and function of the processes involved in design; (3) the objectives of the design problem and any constraints can be determined from this representation; (4) design alternatives can be generated using problem- solving techniques; (5) fabrication specifications can be determined from the designs; and (6) designs can be assessed and evaluated at various points in the design process (Dym, 1994).

Campbell, S., & Colbeck, C. L. (1998, June), Teaching And Assessing Engineering Design: A Review Of The Research Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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