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Use Of Journals To Evaluate Student Design Processes

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Design and Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1234.1 - 7.1234.9



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Durward Sobek

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

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Session 2630

Use of Journals to Evaluate Student Design Processes

Durward K. Sobek, II Montana State University


Journals can be an effective tool to enhance student learning and simultaneously provide the instructor with unique insight into students’ mental processes. In re-introducing journaling into the ME senior design course, we discovered that students need significant guidance in journaling. I describe here several interventions to improve journal quality and their results, and conclude with key lessons learned.

1. Introduction

Engineering journals (or engineering/design notebooks) were once standard practice in the profession, but in recent years the practice has waned as digital technologies have provided new ways to represent and store engineering information. In the same bent, the Mechanical Engineering program at Montana State University once required students to keep design journals, but abandoned the practice when journal quality became poor. While the faculty intuitively felt that journals could be valuable to aspiring engineers, especially in design courses, they had difficulty assessing journals consistently and guiding students in good journaling practice.

As part of a larger research effort to better understand student design processes, I proposed re- instituting journals in the senior capstone design course as a data collection method. The Mechanical Engineering design instructors agreed, and starting in Fall 2000 students were required to document their activities, ideas, and reflections in a design journal as part of the senior capstone experience. Journals were evaluated and assessed a score, which constituted part of each individual’s course grade.

Although the primary motivation for implementing design journals was to collect data on student processes, the cognitive benefits of the practice are potentially substantial. So this paper will first summarize some of the education literature on writing to learn in general, and on journaling in particular. It will then describe journal re-introduction into the senior capstone course, initially with poor results (i.e., journals of low quality) but eventually producing significant increases in thoroughness and quality through instructional interventions. This work does not attempt to measure learning enhancement resulting from journal writing. It simply reports on techniques used to help students create better journals, and concludes with lessons learned from the re- introduction process and student reactions to journaling.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Sobek, D. (2002, June), Use Of Journals To Evaluate Student Design Processes Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10567

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