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The Discourse of Design: Examining Students’ Perceptions of Design in Multidisciplinary Project Teams

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1199.1 - 24.1199.13



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Paper Authors


Megan Kenny Feister Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Megan K. Feister is a doctoral candidate in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University. Her research focuses on organizational identity and socialization, team communication, ethical reasoning development and assessment, and innovation and design. Megan holds a B.A. in communication from Saint Louis University and a M.A. in Organizational Communication from the University of Cincinnati.

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Carla B. Zoltowski Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Carla B. Zoltowski, Ph.D., is Co-Director of the EPICS Program at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in engineering education, all from Purdue University. She has served as a lecturer in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Zoltowski’s academic and research interests include human-centered design learning and assessment, service-learning, ethical reasoning development and assessment, leadership, and assistive technology.

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Patrice Marie Buzzanell Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Patrice M. Buzzanell is a Professor in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and the School of Engineering Education (courtesy) at Purdue University. Editor of three books and author of over 140 articles and chapters, her research centers on the intersections of career, gender, and communication, particularly in STEM. Her research has appeared in such journals as Human Relations, Communication Monographs, Management Communication Quarterly, Communication Theory, Human Communication Research, and Journal of Applied Communication Research, as well as proceedings for ASEE and FIE. A fellow and past president of the International Communication Association, she has received numerous awards for her research, teaching/mentoring, and engagement. She is working on Purdue-ADVANCE initiatives for institutional change, the Transforming Lives Building Global Communities (TLBGC) team in Ghana through EPICS, and individual engineering ethical development and team ethical climate scales through NSF funding as Co-PI. [Email:]

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William C. Oakes Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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William (Bill) Oakes is the Director of the EPICS Program and Professor at Purdue University. He is one of the founding faculty members in the School of Engineering Education with courtesy appointments in Mechanical, Environmental and Ecological Engineering as well as Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education. He has received numerous awards for his efforts at Purdue including being elected as a fellow of the Teaching Academy and listed in the Book of Great Teachers. He was the first engineer to receive the U.S. Campus Compact Thomas Ehrlich Faculty Award for Service-Learning. He was a co-recipient of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering’s Bernard Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education and the recipient of the ASEE Chester Carlson Award for Innovation in Engineering Education. He is a fellow of ASEE and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE).

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Qin Zhu Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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The Discourse of Design: Examining students’ perceptions of design in multidisciplinary project teamsDesign is a central and distinguishing activity of engineering and one of the core criterion forevaluating and accrediting engineering programs. In today’s globally competitive economy, it ismore important than ever to develop effective design skills within the undergraduate years. Inresponse, and in understanding design as a social activity, design education has receivedincreased attention within the curriculum which has motivated the creation of multidisciplinaryprograms focused on the development of engineering products and solutions. However, eachprogram reflects a unique context with a specific emphasis and scope which impacts thestudents’ understanding of design, and how they negotiate design decisions within the projectteam experience. Therefore, it is important to understand how students in these various contextsperceive and make sense of design, as well as what they believe is relevant and important in adesign project.This paper examines the way students in multidisciplinary project teams discursively managetheir understandings of design and design considerations in different pre-professional contexts.Students from four different multidisciplinary project team programs across four differentuniversities were interviewed about how they relate to their respective programs and theirspecific projects. While these four programs share the fundamental characteristics of beingmulti-disciplinary team-based design courses, the diversity across the institutions also representsthe richness of cultures found within engineering. The authors use a discursive psychologicalapproach to examine these interviews for the way the students discursively manage theirunderstandings of their specific design tasks. This approach enables the researchers to examinediscourse on two levels: “little d” discourse as language-in-use in everyday talk, as well as “bigD” Discourses which refer to systems of language or other sensemaking practices that form oursocial realities. These Discourses inform social practices, such as design, by offering certaindiscursive resources that are evidenced in the “little d” everyday language of participants.Using this approach, the authors investigate the way students negotiate their specific designtasks, as well as what issues they seem to find most salient in their respective projects. Byexamining the interplay between the “big D” Discourses evidenced in the students’ everydaytalk, the researchers examine how individual participants conceive of and relate to designprojects, as well as overarching themes that indicate the way different programs frame and shapeissues of design in these courses. Such an understanding can provide insight into how youngengineers approach design tasks and may give some insight into how they prioritize and makedecisions in a fluid and quickly changing design environment.

Feister, M. K., & Zoltowski, C. B., & Buzzanell, P. M., & Oakes, W. C., & Zhu, Q. (2014, June), The Discourse of Design: Examining Students’ Perceptions of Design in Multidisciplinary Project Teams Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23132

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