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The Promise of Impromptu Design Exercises as a Pedagogical Tool in Engineering Design Education

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Design Spine

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1492.1 - 22.1492.12



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Paper Authors


Teresa Genevieve Wojcik Villanova University

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Teresa G. Wojcik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education and Human Services at Villanova University. Her research includes the study of curricular and pedagogical innovation and implementation, an area in which she has international research experience. Dr. Wojcik teaches in both the Undergraduate and Graduate Teacher Education programs.

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M. Clayton Villanova University

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Dr. Garrett M. Clayton received his B.S.M.E. from Seattle University and his M.S.M.E. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington (Seattle). He is an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at Villanova University. His research interests focus on mechatronics, specifically modeling and control of scanning probe microscopes and unmanned vehicles.

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Aleksandra Radlinska Villanova University

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Aleksandra Radlinska is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental
Engineering at Villanova University. She teaches introductory undergraduate courses on civil engineering
materials as well as graduate courses that relate fundamentals of materials science with applications to
civil engineering materials. Her area of expertise includes sustainable design development and she
is currently in the process of development of the new course: ‘Green Construction Materials’ sponsored
by Villanova Institute for Teaching and Learning (VITAL) grant. Aleksandra has broad experience in
introducing engineering concepts through hands-on experience to underrepresented and minority students
(Purdue Civil Engineering Outreach Program for Prospective Undergraduate Students) and she is an
active member of ASEE.

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Noelle K. Comolli Villanova University

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Noelle Comolli, Ph.D., attended University of Delaware for her B.S. in Chemical Engineering, then Drexel University for her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at Villanova University, specializing in biomaterials and polymeric-based drug delivery designs.

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The Promise of Impromptu Design Exercises as a Pedagogical Tool in Engineering Design EducationEngineering programs typically offer design experiences only during freshman and senior year,with little explicit engineering design instruction taking place during sophomore and junior yearswhen students are taking engineering science courses. Thus, students’ opportunities to learn andpractice design methodology are limited and disparate. These fragmented curricular experienceshinder student retention of knowledge related to engineering design, making them ultimatelyunprepared for jobs in design1. This paper asserts that the integration of impromptu designprojects across multiple courses constitutes one significant way in which to close a noticeablegap in the curriculum. By including impromptu design exercises in sophomore and juniorcourses, engineering design will be “spiraled” throughout a student’s entire course of studies.Such an approach will provide a more cohesive learning experience in design education and willbring the curriculum into greater alignment2.Students usually encounter impromptu design exercises as ice breakers or competitions atengineering student gatherings. In a typical contest, students are given a simple design taskcapable of being completed in a short amount of time. The student team approaches the problemthrough trial and error, design-build-test-redesign, or any number of different design tactics.Judges then use a predetermined metric to test the design and determine a “winner.” While thisuse of impromptu design exercises offers students an engaging and enjoyable learningexperience, it fails to reap the maximum benefit offered by this pedagogical technique.Existing research on the use of impromptu design exercises focuses on their proven effectivenessin fostering creative thinking and team-building3. However, few studies have examined the useof impromptu design exercises to explicitly teach the engineering design process and tosimultaneously reinforce theoretical content learned in engineering science courses. The studydescribed in this paper fills a void in the research literature investigating the pedagogy of designeducation. In this study, faculty from a variety of engineering disciplines (Mechanical,Civil/Environmental, and Chemical) incorporated impromptu design exercises into their classes,a course of action supported by recent calls to integrate engineering design across thecurriculum4. Collaborating with a colleague from the university’s Education Department, theinterdisciplinary research team utilized a variety of diagnostic, formative, and summativeassessments to systematically gather data concerning the value of impromptu design as a vehiclefor engineering design education. Preliminary findings indicate that impromptu design exerciseshold promise beyond their use as ice breakers or capstone experiences and are thus worthy ofincreased consideration as a tool in the training of successful engineers5.1 Campbell, S. and Colbeck, C.K. “Teaching and assessing engineering design: a review of theresearch.” ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, 1998.2 Clark, W. M., DiBiasio, D. and Dixon, A.G., Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "A Project-Based, Spiral Curriculum for Chemical Engineering", Paper presented at the 1998 SeattleConference of the American Society for Engineering Education, Chemical Engineering Division.3 Reidsema, C., Wilson, S. and Netherton, C. “Impromptu Design as a Vehicle for DevelopingTeam Work and Problem Solving Skills in Design Engineering.” International Conference onEngineering Education, 2004.4 Wilczynski, V., and Douglas, S.M. “Integrating design across the engineering curriculum: areport from the trenches.” Journal of Engineering Education, 83, pp. 235-240. 1995.5 Clayton, G.M., “Introducing engineering design using impromptu design projects.” ASEECongress and Exposition, 2010.

Wojcik, T. G., & Clayton, M., & Radlinska, A., & Comolli, N. K. (2011, June), The Promise of Impromptu Design Exercises as a Pedagogical Tool in Engineering Design Education Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18465

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