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Using Design Portfolios To Improve Design Education

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.508.1 - 1.508.7

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Paper Authors

author page

Kurt J. Colella

author page

Vincent Wilczynski

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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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....... Using Design Portfolios to Improve Design Education

Vincent Wilczynski, Kurt J. Colella U. S. Coast Guard Academy


The design portfolio is a useful tool to help engineering educators develop and evaluate student design abilities. Like professional portfolios, an institution’s design portfolio features the best student work that results when design instruction is integrated throughout the curriculum. Compared to individual portfolios that illustrat~ one person’s achievements, the institutional portfolio showcases the work of an entire group. This paper introduces the topic of design portfolios and applies teaching portfolio techniques as a content guide for an institution’s design portfolio. The value of an institution’s design portfolio is discussed, and a template of a design portfolio is presented. Experiences from using a design portfolio at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy are documented to illustrate how design portfolios can improve design education.


The importance of the design experience within engineering education is widely acknowledged and accepted, though there is little consensus among engineering educators on how to measure and document performance in this area. Though not a panacea, institutional design portfolios are proposed as a tool to help assess and communicate the design content of an institution’s curriculum. The design portfolio can be a useful mechanism for a program to articulate its design philosophy, document how student design experiences have put that philosophy into practice, reflect on successful design exercises and evaluate the students’ complete design experience. Creating and using a design portfolio highlights design as a developmental skill within the engineering curriculum and allows the faculty to focus on design as an integrated component of engineering education. Because of this focused attention, the use of design portfolios improves design education.

Design portfolios, like portfolios developed by artists, architects and teachers, area mechanism for featuring one’s best work. Portfolios are a selective collection of artifacts that have been assembled to document the extent and quality of one’s professional achievements. Differing from an individual portfolio, the institutional portfolio documents the collective achievements of an entire group. For the institutional (or program) design portfolio, the documented professional achievement is the students’ design experience within an engineering major. To document this achievement, the portfolio presents the best student work rather than a collection of all work or a range of performance. The selections for the portfolio must lx carefully chosen to present the design experience in a concise document, and therefore the portfolio should not include every design exercise that students undertake. In addition to simply presenting the work, the portfolio serves as a forum for assessing student learning and guiding intellectual development.

At the U. S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA), an institutional design portfolio has been developed and used within the Mechanical Engineering major. The portfolio states the department’s philosophy of design education as a developmental process, and documents, using selected design experiences, how that philosophy is put into practice. Two design experiences from each year of the students’ engineering education are presented in the USCGA portfolio. The portfolio artifacts themselves include project assignments, reports, photographs, videos, story boards, prototypes and design specimens. Though motivated as a tool to document

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Colella, K. J., & Wilczynski, V. (1996, June), Using Design Portfolios To Improve Design Education Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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