Title: Towards a Pedagogical Framework for Project-Based Engineering Design Courses
Project-based engineering design courses are increasingly common in undergraduate engineering programs. However, there is a paucity of guidelines to support the development of these new courses or to evaluate the efficacy of existing programs. This is due, in part, to the non-traditional and open-ended nature of these courses when compared to typical engineering courses. Design knowledge is largely procedural rather than declarative; students must learn to follow a methodical (top-down, breadth-first) process, while learning to adapt this problem-solving strategy in response to the uncertainty inherent in design. The appropriate balance between the flexible and methodical aspects of design problem solving is highly context-dependent; it is difficult to structure courses to allow the exploration and coaching that students need in order to develop the required judgment skills.
This poster presents preliminary results from a project aimed at better understanding how engineering design is taught and learned. The overall aim of the project is to develop a pedagogical framework to guide the development, evaluation, and improvement of learning environments for project-based engineering design courses. A web-based instructional tool and data collection system has been developed: the Design Evaluation and Feedback Tool (DEFT). The DEFT system consists of regular short questionnaires to be completed by students and instructors. The resulting data is used to generate reports that allow students to visualize and reflect on their own design processes and to receive timely feedback from instructors, while allowing educators to monitor students’ progress and identify recurring difficulties or misconceptions. The tool has the added advantage of enabling research data to be collected from large numbers of student designers in a standard format across a wide variety of learning environments. It is envisaged that this will allow comparisons to be drawn between alternative learning environments and teaching methods for engineering design, which will in turn inform the development of the proposed pedagogical framework.
The poster presents the DEFT system and describes its development and testing. The tool began as a hybrid of paper-based and online surveys used in a single undergraduate design class, and has now been developed into a custom-built online system that automates the collection, processing, and reporting of data. Over 300 students and twelve instructors in two countries have used the DEFT system to date. Interviews with students and instructors, as well as participant observation research in the classroom, have been used to improve the design of the tool and to validate the data collected. A systematic review of the design education literature has been conducted, and the results will be used to inform future refinements of the DEFT system. The poster concludes with a discussion of future work, and in particular, plans to make the tool publicly available and to scale its use to a large number of engineering design courses.
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