Studying Changes using Concept Maps in First Year Students' Understanding of the Engineering Design Process
This Complete Evidence-Based Practice paper investigates how first year students’ understanding of the engineering design process changes in a design-based Introduction to Engineering course. This fifteen-week two-credit course introduces the engineering design process and provides students with opportunities to practice applying the engineering design process. Students were engaged in a two-week conceptual team design challenge and a ten-week hands-on team design project. The goal of this work is to understand how students’ understanding of the engineering design process changes before and after engaging in these design activities.
Concept maps  are graphical node-arc representations that depict relationships among concepts. They have been used quite extensively both as an instructional tool and an assessment tool in science and engineering classrooms. Concept mapping was chosen as the tool to evaluate students’ understanding of the engineering design process because compared to other tools, it is independent of any design project; can be easily done at the individual level; and its open-endedness requires students to internalize the knowledge, identify key concepts that are relevant, and document relationships between the concepts, demonstrating knowledge of the engineering design process at multiple levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
In two sections of this course taught in the Fall 2018 semester with approximately 40 students each, students individually created visual representations in the form of concept maps to show their understanding of the engineering design process three times during the semester, once before the course started, once after the two-week design challenge and once at the end of semester after the ten-week design project. Qualitative research methods were used to analyze these concept maps. Two researchers identified themes drawn from a theoretical framework about the engineering design process. And these researchers then independently coded the data, compared and discussed discrepancies until agreement was reached to ensure inter-rater reliability.
A preliminary thematic analysis of the data showed that students noted more concepts and provided specific details related to more themes in the second concept map compared to the first one. For example, about a little over 50% of the students mentioned ‘identify the problem’ in their first concept map but majority of them did not provide any details while above 90% of them mentioned ‘identify’ and/or ‘define’ in their second concept map and many provided specific details such as ‘consult customer’, ‘needs’, ‘wants’, ‘collect information about the problem’, ‘POV statements’, ‘goals’, ‘requirements’, ‘criteria’, etc.
In the full paper, specifics about the design-based Introduction to Engineering course will be described. Research aims, methods, and a complete analysis and results will also be presented and discussed.
 J. Turns, C. J. Atman, R. Adams, "Concept maps for engineering education: A cognitively motivated tool supporting varied assessment functions", IEEE Trans. Educ., vol. 43, pp. 164-173, 2000.
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