July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
The Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh conducts an undergraduate retreat at the end of each academic year to review a spectrum of curriculum-related matters. Activities at the retreat form the basis for continuous curriculum quality improvement. Ongoing integration of design-related activities throughout the curriculum motivated an initiative to ask the department’s undergraduate students to define what “design” means to them. The students’ particular definition is relevant to evaluate and guide curriculum development activities to align with all necessary learning objectives. In spring 2019, the graduating bioengineering seniors had suggested increasing incorporation of design elements in the bioengineering curriculum. However, this graduating cohort had recently completed their experience with the department’s capstone Senior Design course and were provided ample exposure to the medical product design process and FDA regulation. This feedback suggested a potential disconnect in the students’ expectations for design-related course content.
We hypothesized that a student’s definition of “design” may be a function of the local educational environment and consequently may not align with all necessary learning objectives. For example, both the Department of Bioengineering and the larger School of Engineering at our institute have a close physical and collaborative relationship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. As a result, bioengineering undergraduate students are typically exposed to and participate in a range of medicine and healthcare-related research activities that may influence their individual understanding and expectations for design related activities.
A key commonality across definitions of engineering design is the focus on process. Other common descriptions of engineering design include its purposeful, constrained, and iterative characteristics. However, these definitions are typically formulated by individuals and organizations that are not undergraduates and, while accurate and reasonable, may differ from that perceived or interpreted by such students. Reconciliation of these definitions may be used to improve didactic engineering education activities. Our initial interest was to evaluate the students’ definition of “design” to benchmark the department’s Senior Design course where students conduct a range of design, fabrication, and testing activities. This capstone course has historically emphasized “the process” more than “the thing”.
Consequently, we surveyed students to provide their particular definition of “design” as part of an activity in the weekly undergraduate departmental seminar. The following open-ended question was asked: To better address student needs, and in order to assist the program, a clear definition for design is required. As such, in a few sentences please share how would you define design. A qualitative coding scheme was used to content analyze the open-ended responses. The collected data were also processed using MATLAB’s Text Analytics Toolbox to determine the frequency of key words used in each student response as the basis for a word map.
Out of 248 students surveyed, 247 completed this assignment. Response analysis revealed that 64 percent defined “design” as creating a process; 42 percent defined “design” as creating a product; and 23 percent defined “design” as creating a solution to a problem. Some definitions were less specific and were categorized as “other” (8 percent). One example of such an “other” definition was, “I would describe design as a creative art. Even if the design is medical or engineering related, it still requires you to use a creative part of your brain”.
While preliminary, this initiative provided data that supported the process-based focus and didactic content of the department’s capstone Senior Design course. The course instructor intends to use this information to audit course content as well as a basis for additional examples during didactic activities. The results from this effort is also expected to assist other faculty in better understanding students’ perceptions of engineering design to help better reinforce engineering design concepts and direct other potential content in other areas of the curriculum.
Next steps include working to better understand how students define other key words, such as how students define “process” or “product”. We also intend to survey our faculty to determine how they personally define “design”. We expect to incorporate these data into our continuous quality improvement efforts to further fine-tune our undergraduate curriculum as well as guide development of new future course offerings.
Mahboobin, A., & Gartner, M. (2021, July), WIP: Defining Design as a Guide for Quality Improvement Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/38075
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