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Teaching Decision Making In Engineering: A Review Of Textbooks And Teaching Approaches

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Research on the First Year I

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1170.1 - 15.1170.9



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Paper Authors


Senay Purzer Purdue University

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Senay Purzer is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She is also the Co-Director of Assessment Research for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE). She received a Ph.D. and a M.A in Science Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University. Her creative research focuses on collaborative learning, design & decision-making, and the role of engineering self-efficacy on student achievement.

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Jing Chen Purdue University

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Jing Chen is a graduate student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received a M.S. in Environmental Engineering, School of Civil Engineering from Purdue University and a B.S. in Environmental Engineering, Department of Environmental Science and Engineering from Tsinghua University in China. Her research currently focuses on design & decision-making.

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

Teaching Decision-Making in Engineering: A Review of Textbooks & Teaching Approaches Abstract

Despite the importance of decision-making in engineering, only a limited number of studies investigate how to teach and learn decision-making skills in engineering. We conducted an in-depth content analysis of 1) first-year engineering textbooks and 2) instructional decision-support tools published in ASEE proceedings in the last decade. We discussed our findings in the light of research and theoretical frameworks on decision making. The examination of fourteen books that are commonly used as a textbook in first-year engineering courses revealed that half of these books discussed decision making usually very briefly or as one step in the design process. Twenty-nine percent linked engineering decision making to social and ethical issues (e. g., examination of engineering disasters and historical decisions that led to failures). In addition, two books (14%) discussed decision-making in the context of teams. The review of instructional tools and methods presented by engineering educators at ASEE conferences indicated that decision making is taught and studied in three different approaches: during design projects, using simulations, and through case-based teaching approaches.


In everyday life and at work people make many decisions. Doctors diagnose illnesses and prescribe medicine, teachers identify student knowledge and skills and develop appropriate learning activities, and engineers identify needs and develop technological solutions. From a broad perspective, decision-making can be defined as the act of choosing one option out of many alternatives6 and 21. Dwarakanath and Wallace2 (1995) identified two types of decisions: the first type starts by generating several alternatives and a comparison of these against each other. The second type of decision-making process involves an evaluation of an alternative against criteria as it is generated. Engineering decisions generally require an understanding of systems and involves the goal of design optimization.

Review of Research on Decision-Making

Prior research -making processes3 and 16 has been conducted with diverse professionals such as doctors7, nurses10, teachers5, and engineers20. However, while much research has been conducted with professionals, studies focusing on the -making processes are limited. Interestingly, researchers in both engineering design (conducting research on practitioners) and engineering education (focusing on research in student learning processes) call for more research in this area20and 22. The National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Engineering (2001) also address the need for more focus on decision-making in the context of design.

Purzer, S., & Chen, J. (2010, June), Teaching Decision Making In Engineering: A Review Of Textbooks And Teaching Approaches Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15942

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