2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Impromptu Reflection as a Means for Self-Assessment of Design Thinking Skills

Presented at K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Student Reflection, Self-Perception, Misconceptions, and Uncertainty

The encouragement for this paper lies in the individualistic nature of engineering design skills. Design thinking has been articulated in many different forms. Dym et al. (2005) identified the following approaches to characterize design thinking: “design thinking as divergent-convergent questioning, thinking about design systems, making design decisions, design thinking in a team environment, and language of engineering design”. According to Brown (2008), some characteristics of design thinkers include “empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism and collaboration”. The commonality between these approaches and aspects is that design skills are understood and experienced by different individuals differently. This may be attributed to the context of the design activities, prior knowledge of the learner, personally meaningful connections, and other humanistic factors.

We employ narrative analysis to understand how students reflect on their design experiences. We further map these reflections to theorized aspects of design thinking, in order to understand how well students can employ reflection as a means to self assess their engineering design skills.

To understand how learners proceed through developing design thinking skills, we employ Ibarra’s theory of provisional selves (1999). According to Ibarra, individuals experiment with "provisional selves" to accept and internalize them. The three basic tasks in this adaptation process, are ": 1) observing role models to identify potential identities, 2) experimenting with provisional selves, and 3) evaluating these experiments against internal standards and external feedback" (p. 1). In this study, upper elementary and middle school students were initiated into ideas pertaining to design thinking via formalized instruction in their classrooms and a summer camp. The learners then engage with design activities as they experimented with their provisional selves, and then they were asked to reflect upon how they employed design thinking in the context of their project. These reflective narratives that form the third task of Ibarra’s theory constituted the data for our narrative analysis.

This understanding of students’ abilities to reflect upon their design thinking skills further paves the way for a model of self-assessment of design thinking.

Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86(6).
Dym, C. L., Agogino, A. M., Eris, O., Frey, D. D., & Leifer, L. J. (2005). Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 103–120.
Ibarra, H. (1999). Provisional selves: Experimenting with image and identity in professional adaptation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(4), 764–791.

  1. Miss Avneet Hira Purdue University, West Lafayette [biography]
  2. Dr. Morgan M. Hynes Purdue University, West Lafayette [biography]
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