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The Quality of Engineering Decision-Making in Student Design Teams

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Design Methodology and Evaluation 1

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1227.1 - 23.1227.11



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Paper Authors


Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Nicholas is a Ph.D. student in engineering education at Purdue University. His research interests include engineering design, team learning, and instructional laboratories. He has conference publications on cooperative learning, engineering laboratories, innovation, and design.

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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Senay Purzer is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering Education and is the Director of Assessment Research for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE) at Purdue University. Dr. Purzer is a NAE/CASEE New Faculty Fellow. She is also the recipient of a 2012 NSF CAREER award, which examines how engineering students approach innovation. Her expertise is on assessment and mixed-methods research.

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The Quality of Engineering Decision-Making in Student Design TeamsEngineers often must decide between multiple design options that present tradeoffs. For thisreason, effective decision-making is a desired skill for engineering graduates. Engineeringstudents often gain experience making such decisions during team design projects or capstonecourses. While previous studies of engineering student design teams have focused on ideageneration, conceptual design, team dynamics, individual skills such as communication andleadership, and the overall design process, few have studied decision-making within these teams.This paper will investigate the quality of engineering decision-making during a team engineeringdesign decision-making task in a first-year engineering course.Nineteen teams of three or four students were presented with a design situation, a data andinformation packet, and three possible design options. The teams were asked to investigate thethree options and recommend one to a client. Students were video-recorded during the designtask. They also produced memos indicating calculations, data for each design option, and theirdecision with rationale. We used a rubric developed for the purposes of this investigation toevaluate the quality of the decisions. Decisions were evaluated based on the quality of indicatedcriteria, the quality of data used to support the decision, and the alignment between informationgathered and criteria selected. Inter-rater reliability between two raters was high for all threerubric categories. We also coded videos of team discussions for individual or team factors thatmay have contributed to strong or poor decisions.Analysis of the team memos indicated that most teams used appropriate criteria that wereconsistent with the client’s wishes and supported their decisions with data. Student teams,however, did not rely on accurate data in their decisions. Data from video recordings showedteam process played a critical role in how teams made decisions and the types of decisions teamsmade. For example, teams that employed the divide-and-conquer technique typically did notcheck the work of individual members or subgroups, allowing inaccurate data to factor into theirfinal decision. However, teams that used a collaborative approach often discussed and correctedpotential logic and calculation mistakes. In addition to presenting a rubric that can be used toevaluate student engineering design decisions, this paper will contribute recommendations forinstruction on engineering design decision-making.

Fila, N. D., & Purzer, S. (2013, June), The Quality of Engineering Decision-Making in Student Design Teams Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22612

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