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Tracking Design Knowledge in Engineering Student Projects around Course Milestones

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Capstone Design I

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1369.1 - 25.1369.15



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Paper Authors


Sharad Vimal Oberoi Carnegie Mellon University

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Sharad Oberoi completed his Ph.D. from the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in 2011. He is currently affiliated with the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems at CMU. His research interests include language in design, computer-supported cooperative learning, collaboration in design, and design education.

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Susan Finger National Science Foundation

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Susan Finger is currently a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. She is on leave from Carnegie Mellon University, where she is a professor of civil and environmental engineering. She is also affiliated with the School of Architecture and the Institute for Complex Engineered Systems. Finger received her B.A. in astronomy and M.A. in operations research from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in electric power systems through civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was the first Program Director for design theory and methodology at the National Science Foundation. She is a founder and former Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal Research in Engineering Design. Finger's research interests include collaborative learning in design, rapid prototyping, and integration of design and manufacturing concerns.

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Tracking Design Knowledge in Engineering Student Projects around Course MilestonesMany engineering design project courses challenge students with real-world problems thatrequire a team to think creatively and to integrate their knowledge. When faced with conflictingconstraints, students must break the thinking patterns they acquired in the classroom. Theexternalization of the knowledge of individual students and the development of a sharedunderstanding by the team does not happen by itself. External stimuli, such as explicit projectmilestones, client presentations and class meetings, force the students to share and integrate theirdesign ideas that help to move the project forward.Previous research has shown that noun phrases can be used as an objective design metric forpredicting design process performance (Mabogunje 1997). Researchers have also presentedempirical evidence that metrics applied to the communication artifacts generated usingcomputer-supported collaboration tools can provide insight into the students’ design process(Dutoit 1996). This paper builds on this prior work and discusses how the knowledgeassimilation in the design process is clustered around explicit project deadlines in a semester-long interdisciplinary engineering design project course. This course is divided into four groupsthat are each working on different aspects of the same design artifact. The studentcommunication has been captured in electronic format through a light-weight collaboration toolfor student project team collaboration. The captured data includes team conversations,discussions, slide presentations, class documents, weekly plans, worklogs, meeting minutes,intermediate update reports, references and project files that would have otherwise gone throughe-mail or chat. The data includes additional metadata allowing segregation by time, group anddocument type.By tracking the evolution of noun phrases (as surrogates for design concepts) throughout thesemester, this paper shows how the noun phrases peak at the end of each of the three phases inthe class. The peaks represent the number of distinct noun phrases used in the documents anddiscussions in the week before the project deadlines. The paper then divides the data intoediting/presentation and design categories and compares the noun phrases used in the twocategories separately. In other words, the knowledge created because of individual groupdeadlines (intermediate phase milestones) is compared to that in the overall class presentationdeadlines (end-of-phase milestones). It is found that the phase milestones require morecoordination between different groups and thus show higher peaks than the intermediateproducts. The paper details sample individual concepts (noun phrases) used by the student designgroups and tracks how they are modified at the end of each phase or dropped because of designchoices. It is expected that this paper will help instructors analyze the role played by explicitproject deadlines in project based design courses and show the role of externalization in designproject realization. 1ReferencesDutoit, A.H., The Role of Communication in Team-based Software Engineering Projects,Doctoral Dissertation, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie MellonUniversity, 1996.Mabogunje, A., Measuring Conceptual Design Performance in Mechanical Engineering: AQuestion Based Approach, Doctoral Dissertation, Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 1997. 2

Oberoi, S. V., & Finger, S. (2012, June), Tracking Design Knowledge in Engineering Student Projects around Course Milestones Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22126

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