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The Web As A Model Technology In Freshman Design

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.548.1 - 4.548.12

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Paper Authors

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Penny L. Hirsch

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J. Edward Colgate

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David M. Kelso

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C. Yarnoff

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Barbara L. Shwom

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J. Anderson

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

Session 3353

The Web as a Model Technology in Freshman Design

J. Anderson, J. E. Colgate, P. Hirsch, D. Kelso, B. Shwom, C. Yarnoff Northwestern University


The challenge of teaching design to freshmen is to find projects and technologies that suit their level of proficiency while allowing them to experience the design process and prepare for upper level courses. In the first quarter of a two-quarter freshman course in design and communication, students work on web site projects for campus clients. Web technology is an effective tool for this purpose because it is widely available, inexpensive, timely, easily learned (at a basic level) and well suited to teaching the processes of design and communication. As they engage in reverse engineering, generating alternatives, interviewing clients and users, etc., students learn techniques that they apply in the second quarter to other kinds of projects.


Despite the growing trend in engineering education to have more students study design at 1-4 an earlier point in their education, many engineering faculty question whether design is an appropriate activity for freshmen. Traditionally, “engineering design” has been an activity for seniors, who have the domain-specific knowledge required to solve detailed technical problems. Design is taught in the capstone courses in their majors and is expected to culminate in a prototype with detailed plans, specifications, and calculations.

There are, however, many good arguments for teaching design to freshmen and sophomores, especially since detailed design is only one aspect of the design process. Design involves general activities that freshmen can learn, such as gathering information, generating alternatives, obtaining feedback, balancing competing requirements, and making decisions. Moreover, introductory design courses help students develop the competencies they need throughout their education and in industry–such as the ability to work in teams and to communicate effectively with clients, customers, and supervisors—and generate the excitement and motivation that theoretical courses too often lack.5

The challenge is to find projects that are within a freshman’s technical capabilities, and that allow freshmen to experience the full richness of the design process and prepare to do domain-specific projects in upper-level courses. At Northwestern, our answer to this challenge is to have students design web sites.6 We have found that the World Wide Web (which we will refer to simply as “the web”) is an effective technology for teaching design because it is (1) convenient, (2) available, (3) well suited to teaching the process of design, and (4) excellent for teaching communication, a competency essential to design and to our students’ general professional and intellectual development.

Hirsch, P. L., & Colgate, J. E., & Kelso, D. M., & Yarnoff, C., & Shwom, B. L., & Anderson, J. (1999, June), The Web As A Model Technology In Freshman Design Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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