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The Current State Of Capstone Design Pedagogy

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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

Capstone Design Pedagogy I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1217.1 - 15.1217.13



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Paper Authors

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James Pembridge Virginia Tech

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Marie Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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

The Current State of Capstone Design Pedagogy


In the fall of 2009, faculty involved in capstone design courses were surveyed to track trends in the course structure and to explore current pedagogical practices. Where prior surveys probed course logistics, faculty involvement, project coordination, funding details, and industry involvement, this survey complements that work by also addressing the teaching beliefs and practices of capstone faculty. The results provide a basis for understanding commonalities across capstone experiences and help lay the foundation for training future design educators. This paper presents the descriptive statistical results from the survey, examines national trends in capstone pedagogy, and addresses the implications of the findings for design education.


Capstone design experiences represent a critical transition between the academic classroom and the contemporary workplace, and as such have become both important sites for industry partnerships and essential components of programmatic assessment and accreditation.1 Capstone projects typically require students to move beyond rote knowledge and apply life-long learning, engineering judgment, analytical decision-making, and critical thinking to address complex problems in light of a broad spectrum of social, environmental, economic, and global constraints. Even when design experiences recur throughout a curriculum, capstone courses form an important bridge between school and work as students bring their classroom learning to bear on the process of conducting and managing a complex extended project.

Past surveys have identified a number of logistical aspects for capstone courses, including topics covered, assessment techniques, and course administration. The first survey was conducted in 1994 by Todd et al. to understand other capstone design courses as a means to improving the capstone course at BYU.2 A follow up survey was conducted by Howe and Wilbarger in 2005 to assess the trends in capstone education over the intervening decade.3, 4 In addition, a 2001 survey by McKenzie et al. focused on assessment practices.5

These and other research efforts in capstone design were sparked in large part by ABET’s institution of a capstone requirement.6 The resulting institutionalization of capstone design courses in engineering curricula likely forms a basis for some of the findings from both Todd et al. and Howe and Wilbarger. Howe and Wilbarger’s work may also capture trends that emerged in conjunction with ABET’s move to outcome-based program assessment. Over the past five years, engineering education has again seen a push for significant change, heralded by the 2004 publication of The Engineer of 2020 and the 2005 follow-up Educating the Engineer of 2020,7,8 the initiation of a more robust basis for engineering education research in the pages of the Journal of Engineering Education,9 and an emphasis on the role of professional practice in curricula.10 In response, much of the research in recent years has focused on ways to improve the teaching and learning of engineering content; less work, however, has been done to systematically explore the teaching and learning of engineering design. This study, by combining

Pembridge, J., & Paretti, M. (2010, June), The Current State Of Capstone Design Pedagogy Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16141

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