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Exploring the Effect of Design Education on the Design Cognition of Mechanical Engineering Students

[+] Author Affiliations
Christopher B. Williams, Yoon Lee, Marie Paretti

Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University, Blacksburg, VA

John Gero

George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Paper No. DETC2011-48357, pp. 607-614; 8 pages
  • ASME 2011 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference
  • Volume 7: 5th International Conference on Micro- and Nanosystems; 8th International Conference on Design and Design Education; 21st Reliability, Stress Analysis, and Failure Prevention Conference
  • Washington, DC, USA, August 28–31, 2011
  • Conference Sponsors: Design Engineering Division and Computers and Information in Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-5484-6
  • Copyright © 2011 by ASME


In this paper, the authors report on progress of a longitudinal study on the impact of design education on students’ design thinking and practice. Using innovations in cognitive science and new methods of protocol analysis, the authors are working with engineering students to characterize their design cognition as they progress through engineering curricula. In this paper, the results from a protocol study of sophomore Mechanical Engineering students are presented. Specifically, data gathered from two experimental sessions (conducted before and after the students’ introductory design course) are analyzed to identify changes in design thinking cognition. Design cognition is determined using protocol analysis with the coding of the protocols based on a general design ontology, namely, the Function-Behavior-Structure (FBS) as a principled coding scheme (as opposed to an ad hoc one). Preliminary results indicate that statistically significant changes in students’ design cognition occur over the course of their sophomore year. The change manifests itself in an increase in focus on the purposes of designs being produced, which is often a precursor to the production a higher quality designs, and an increase in the design processes associated with the introduction of purposes of designs.

Copyright © 2011 by ASME



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