Asee peer logo

The Impact Of Scaffolding On Student Success In A Precapstone Design Course

Download Paper |


2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Capstone Design I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1224.1 - 14.1224.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Alan Cheville Oklahoma State University


Steven Welch Oklahoma State University

visit author page

Steven Welch is a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering at Oklahoma State University.

visit author page

Download Paper |

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

The Impact of Scaffolding on Student Success in a Pre-Capstone Design Course Abstract

This paper summarizes four years of active development of a pre-capstone design course at a large state university. Three changes to course structure resulted in large positive changes to the success of the course and improvements in learning outcomes. The most significant impact has arisen from changing the focus of the pre-capstone course from completing projects that utilized specific knowledge domains of electrical engineering to defining and modeling the design process by establishing project milestones which follow the design process. A second change that had large positive impact on student success is developing resources to improve team functioning, matching team size to project complexity, and creating a project manager role on each team. Finally, changes to the learning environment which mimic an actual professional workplace and reduce the barriers to completing design projects have proven effective. Adding and improving methods that scaffold students’ skills in engineering design have resulted in a project success rate that improved from the 60% range to nearly 100%. This increase in the success rate is mirrored by increases in other metrics used to evaluate the course including reflective statements from students, rubric based grading of written artifacts, and scores on a summative examination testing design skills. Lessons from the evolution of this course offer valuable insights to other programs who wish to better prepare students for capstone courses.

Introduction and Background

Design as an activity is increasing in importance in undergraduate engineering programs both due to ABET criteria and an overall recognition that engineering needs to be more hands-on 1. From freshman courses to the traditional capstone programs design is often seen as by proponents as a necessary aspect of learning engineering and, as such, plays a unique and important role in many engineering programs. Unlike courses which focus on acquisition of narrow, domain-specific knowledge, design courses often emphasize application of a broad spectrum of knowledge. The importance of design, particularly capstone, courses arises both from their purported impact on students and because of their disproportionate role in assessment and accreditation in many program 2. Despite the importance of design courses their format varies widely and outcomes are not standardized across programs. The goal of many design courses is to teach students the process of design—for example see 3—and/or practice applying domain specific knowledge to a design project. Although rarely discussed, at a deeper level faculty want design courses to be developmentally transformative; i.e. help the student actualize themselves as an engineer by taking on the role of an engineer and actively participating in the culture of engineering. Teaching design courses is difficult and time consuming for faculty. This paper presents a case study of a series of interative, ongoing changes to a capstone design course, and emphasizes three changes that significantly improved student learning, project success rates, and student evaluation of the value and utility of the course and required minimal investment of faculty time. This work falls under the theoretical framework of action research 4.

Cheville, A., & Welch, S. (2009, June), The Impact Of Scaffolding On Student Success In A Precapstone Design Course Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5449

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2009 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015