2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Embracing Ambiguity: A Framework for Promoting Iterative Design Thinking Approaches in Engineering and Design Curricula

Presented at Design Tools and Skill Development

Embracing Ambiguity: A Framework for Promoting Iterative Design Thinking Approaches in Open-Ended Engineering and Design Curricula

Engineering students and design students approach projects with different mindsets. However, despite their differences, students in design and engineering often exhibit similar behaviors throughout the design process with a proclivity to quickly converge on a final solution, often motivated by an attempt to escape the ambiguous user-research phase of design. The authors believe that as instructors acknowledge and encourage students to explore open-ended projects, students will have a higher likelihood that they shed the fear and anxiety that often comes with these unknown project outcomes.

This paper will explore successful engineering and design case studies, taken from coursework and curricula at Ohio State University as well as at Columbus College of Art & Design. These stories and challenges will be explained to highlight what can emerge from creating curricula around open-ended design pedagogy, which serves to mimic real world, often ‘wicked’ scenarios. By describing engineering and design programs doing similar pedagogical activities, the authors will reflect on their own classroom experiences, discuss lessons learned, and propose a framework that instructors can call upon to encourage students to embrace ambiguity, thus becoming more agile and resilient in the future.

Each author has taught the case study courses for several years and each has noted the pattern of pedagogical challenges that have come up while conducting open-ended, ambiguous design projects. These patterns were the motivation for exploring a framework that could better support learning outcomes and further to develop the students’ abilities to iterate and think through critical problems and ambiguous scenarios without getting caught on initial design solutions. This framework could be applied by other instructors in a range of course settings across engineering and design disciplines.

  1. Annie Abell Ohio State University [biography]
  2. Kelly DeVore Columbus College of Art and Design [biography]
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