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Teaching Human-centered Design to Engineers: Continuous Improvement in a Cornerstone Course

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

First-Year Programs: Design in the First Year

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Catalina Cortazar P. Univ. Católica de Chile

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Catalina Cortázar is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at DiLab the Design initiative at the School of Engineering at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Catalina holds a bachelor degree in Civil Engineering, with concentration in Structural Design. After graduating and working at an Engineering firm in Chile, Catalina completed a master’s degree in media studies at The New School, and a MFA in Design and Technology @ Parsons The New School for Design, New York.
At DiLab Catalina teaches and coordinates the Engineering Challenges course which aims to initiate freshmen students in to engineering design practices by encouraging students to develop a project following a user-centered design process.
She also teaches Visual Thinking, the exploratory course of the Major in Engineering, Design, and Innovation. This course addresses the theories and ideas that sustain the visual thinking process as well as methodologies and practical implementation of visual representation through infographics, computer graphics, and physical computing. The course focus on representing the narrative of the findings using visual tools.
Catalina has been directing FabLabUC since 2015. FabLabUC is a fabrication laboratory located at the Innovation Center, PUC .
Currently she is pursuing a PhD in Computer Sciences with a research focus on Engineering Education at PUC.

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This evidence-based paper describes the continuous improvement process of a first-year cornerstone (Project Based Learning) course which took place between 2014 and 2019 at an Engineering School. This improvement process has been based on data from the Department of Engineering Education, and the Instructor Evaluation Survey answered by students at the end of each semester. Cornerstone courses are engineering design courses that provide first-year students with an early introduction to competences for solving real-world problems (Dringenberg, E., & Purzer, S., 2018). This type of course is usually taught using project-based learning (PBL) methodology, which introduces students at early stages to ill-structured problems. PBL methodology has proven to have several benefits for students by enabling them to generate original opinions and express individual standpoints, improve their active participation in self-learning processes, enhance communication skills, and promote critical thinking (Wengrowicz N., Dori Y.J., & Dori D., 2017). In this course, each semester, students follow a human-centered design process to understand a particular topic, find an opportunity for innovation, develop a solution, a prototype, and test it. This iterative process takes place during the first semester of engineering studies. Students need to identify a challenge from a particular topic. Topics vary each semester and go from Health to Firefighters. Based on students’ performance through the years a three point criteria has been developed in order to determine the research topic for each semester. The article focuses on the continuous improvements made to a cornerstone course. These improvements are related to how to determine work topic, team composition, and team assessment methods for each semester. The final purpose of this article is to deliver guidelines to those who are interested in cornerstone courses.

Cortazar, C. (2020, June), Teaching Human-centered Design to Engineers: Continuous Improvement in a Cornerstone Course Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35278

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