skip to main content

Title: Intersections of Design Thinking and Perceptions of Success for Electrical, Computer, and Software Engineering Students
Engineering design thinking has become an important part of the educational discussion for both researchers and practitioners. Colleges and universities seek to graduate engineering students who can engage in the complex nature of combining both technical performance with design thinking skills. Prior research has shown that design thinking can be a solution for solving complicated technical and social issues in a holistic, adaptive way. However, little is known about how students make sense of their design thinking experiences and reconcile that into their perceptions of what it means to be a successful engineer. As part of a five-year National Science Foundation REvolutionizing Engineering and Computer Science Departments (NSF-RED) grant, this study highlights the experiences of students engaged in a course which has been redesigned to enhance student development through design thinking pedagogy. This case study sought to understand how electrical, computer, and software engineering students engage with design thinking and how that engagement shapes their perceptions of what success looks like. The case study was informed through observations of lecture and lab classroom contexts, interviews with students, and a review of relevant course documents. Participants met the following criteria: (a) were over the age of 18, (b) majoring in CES engineering, more » and (c) were currently enrolled in one of two courses currently undergoing redesign: a second-year electrical engineering course called Circuits or a second-year computer engineering course called Embedded Systems. Preliminary findings reveal that students engaged in the design thinking course described a disconnect between design thinking elements of the course and their perceptions of what it meant to be a successful electrical, computer, or software engineer. Although design thinking concepts focused on empathy-building and customer needs, it was often difficult for engineering students to see beyond the technical content of their course and conceptualize elements of design thinking as essential to their successful performance as engineers. This study bears significance to practitioners and researchers interested in (re)designing curriculum to meet the growing needs of innovation for today’s customer’s. Implications for policy and practice will be discussed to enhance the way that engineering programs, curricula, and workforce training are created. « less
; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
2019 ASEE Annual Conference
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. There is a critical need for more students with engineering and computer science majors to enter into, persist in, and graduate from four-year postsecondary institutions. Increasing the diversity of the workforce by inclusive practices in engineering and science is also a profound identified need. According to national statistics, the largest groups of underrepresented minority students in engineering and science attend U.S. public higher education institutions. Most often, a large proportion of these students come to colleges and universities with unique challenges and needs, and are more likely to be first in their family to attend college. In response to these needs, engineering education researchers and practitioners have developed, implemented and assessed interventions to provide support and help students succeed in college, particularly in their first year. These interventions typically target relatively small cohorts of students and can be managed by a small number of faculty and staff. In this paper, we report on “work in progress” research in a large-scale, first-year engineering and computer science intervention program at a public, comprehensive university using multivariate comparative statistical approaches. Large-scale intervention programs are especially relevant to minority serving institutions that prepare growing numbers of students who are first in their family tomore »attend college and who are also under-resourced, financially. These students most often encounter academic difficulties and come to higher education with challenging experiences and backgrounds. Our studied first-year intervention program, first piloted in 2015, is now in its 5th year of implementation. Its intervention components include: (a) first-year block schedules, (b) project-based introductory engineering and computer science courses, (c) an introduction to mechanics course, which provides students with the foundation needed to succeed in a traditional physics sequence, and (d) peer-led supplemental instruction workshops for calculus, physics and chemistry courses. This intervention study responds to three research questions: (1) What role does the first-year intervention’s components play in students’ persistence in engineering and computer science majors across undergraduate program years? (2) What role do particular pedagogical and cocurricular support structures play in students’ successes? And (3) What role do various student socio-demographic and experiential factors play in the effectiveness of first-year interventions? To address these research questions and therefore determine the formative impact of the firstyear engineering and computer science program on which we are conducting research, we have collected diverse student data including grade point averages, concept inventory scores, and data from a multi-dimensional questionnaire that measures students’ use of support practices across their four to five years in their degree program, and diverse background information necessary to determine the impact of such factors on students’ persistence to degree. Background data includes students’ experiences prior to enrolling in college, their socio-demographic characteristics, and their college social capital throughout their higher education experience. For this research, we compared students who were enrolled in the first-year intervention program to those who were not enrolled in the first-year intervention. We have engaged in cross-sectional 2 data collection from students’ freshman through senior years and employed multivariate statistical analytical techniques on the collected student data. Results of these analyses were interesting and diverse. Generally, in terms of backgrounds, our research indicates that students’ parental education is positively related to their success in engineering and computer science across program years. Likewise, longitudinally (across program years), students’ college social capital predicted their academic success and persistence to degree. With regard to the study’s comparative research of the first-year intervention, our results indicate that students who were enrolled in the first-year intervention program as freshmen continued to use more support practices to assist them in academic success across their degree matriculation compared to students who were not in the first-year program. This suggests that the students continued to recognize the value of such supports as a consequence of having supports required as first-year students. In terms of students’ understanding of scientific or engineering-focused concepts, we found significant impact resulting from student support practices that were academically focused. We also found that enrolling in the first-year intervention was a significant predictor of the time that students spent preparing for classes and ultimately their grade point average, especially in STEM subjects across students’ years in college. In summary, we found that the studied first-year intervention program has longitudinal, positive impacts on students’ success as they navigate through their undergraduate experiences toward engineering and computer science degrees.« less
  2. Electrical and computer engineering technologies have evolved into dynamic, complex systems that profoundly change the world we live in. Designing these systems requires not only technical knowledge and skills but also new ways of thinking and the development of social, professional and ethical responsibility. A large electrical and computer engineering department at a Midwestern public university is transforming to a more agile, less traditional organization to better respond to student, industry and society needs. This is being done through new structures for faculty collaboration and facilitated through departmental change processes. Ironically, an impetus behind this effort was a failed attempt at department-wide curricular reform. This failure led to the recognition of the need for more systemic change, and a project emerged from over two years of efforts. The project uses a cross-functional, collaborative instructional model for course design and professional formation, called X-teams. X-teams are reshaping the core technical ECE curricula in the sophomore and junior years through pedagogical approaches that (a) promote design thinking, systems thinking, professional skills such as leadership, and inclusion; (b) contextualize course concepts; and (c) stimulate creative, socio-technical-minded development of ECE technologies. An X-team is comprised of ECE faculty members including the primary instructor, anmore »engineering education and/or design faculty member, an industry practitioner, context experts, instructional specialists (as needed to support the process of teaching, including effective inquiry and inclusive teaching) and student teaching assistants. X-teams use an iterative design thinking process and reflection to explore pedagogical strategies. X-teams are also serving as change agents for the rest of the department through communities of practice referred to as Y-circles. Y-circles, comprised of X-team members, faculty, staff, and students, engage in a process of discovery and inquiry to bridge the engineering education research-to-practice gap. Research studies are being conducted to answer questions to understand (1) how educators involved in X-teams use design thinking to create new pedagogical solutions; (2) how the middle years affect student professional ECE identity development as design thinkers; (3) how ECE students overcome barriers, make choices, and persist along their educational and career paths; and (4) the effects of department structures, policies, and procedures on faculty attitudes, motivation and actions. This paper will present the efforts that led up to the project, including failures and opportunities. It will summarize the project, describe related work, and present early progress implementing new approaches.« less
  3. Teaming is a core part of engineering education, especially in the first and last years of engineering when project work is a prevalent focus. The literature on the effects of working in diverse teams is mixed. Negative findings include decreased affect, increased frustration, and sustained conflict in teams. Positive findings include increased productivity, production of high quality products, and divergent-thinking and idea generation. Given these mixed findings, it becomes important to not only understand the practical outputs of working in diverse teams, but also how the experience of working in diverse teams influences whether students see themselves as engineers and whether or not they feel they belong in engineering. Our project, Building Supports for Diversity through Engineering Teams, investigates how students’ attitudes towards diversity influence how students experience work in diverse teams through addressing two main research questions: 1) What changes occur in students’ diversity sensitivity, multicultural effectiveness, and engineering practices as a result of working in diverse teams? 2) How do students’ perceptions of diversity, affect, and engineering practices change because of working on diverse teams? Using a multi-method approach, we deployed survey instruments to determine changes in student’s attitudes about teaming, diversity sensitivity, and openness attitudes. We alsomore »observed students working in teams and interviewed these students about their perceptions of diversity and experiences in their teams. Preliminary results of the quantitative phase show that variance in students’ attitudes about diversity significantly increase over the semester, further reflecting the mixed results that have been seen previously in the literature. Additionally, Social Network Analysis was used to characterize the social structure practices of a multi-section, large-enrollment first-year engineering course. This reveals the underlying social structure of the environment, its inclusiveness, and how diverse students work with others on engineering. Initial results indicate that students are included in social networks regardless of gender and race. Preliminary results of the qualitative phase, using Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, have yielded relationships between student’s definitions, valuation, and enactment of diversity in engineering spaces. Individual student’s incoming attitudes of diversity and previous experiences interact with practical needs in first-year engineering classrooms to create different microclimates within each team. These microclimates depict tensions between what instructors emphasize about diversity, stereotypes of engineering as focused on technical instead of social skills, and pragmatic forces of “getting the job done.” This knowledge can help explain some of the complexity behind the conflicting literature on diversity in teams. Ultimately, this research can help us understand how to build inclusive and diverse environments that guide students to learn how to understand their own complex relationship, understanding, and enactment of diversity in engineering. By understanding how students make sense of diversity in engineering spaces, educators and researchers can figure out how to introduce these concepts in relevant ways so that students can inclusively meet the grand challenges in engineering. This curriculum integration, in turn, can improve team interactions and the climate of engineering for underrepresented groups.« less
  4. A solid understanding of electromagnetic (E&M) theory is key to the education of electrical engineering students. However, these concepts are notoriously challenging for students to learn, due to the difficulty in grasping abstract concepts such as the electric force as an invisible force that is acting at a distance, or how electromagnetic radiation is permeating and propagating in space. Building physical intuition to manipulate these abstractions requires means to visualize them in a three-dimensional space. This project involves the development of 3D visualizations of abstract E&M concepts in Virtual Reality (VR), in an immersive, exploratory, and engaging environment. VR provides the means of exploration, to construct visuals and manipulable objects to represent knowledge. This leads to a constructivist way of learning, in the sense that students are allowed to build their own knowledge from meaningful experiences. In addition, the VR labs replace the cost of hands-on labs, by recreating the experiments and experiences on Virtual Reality platforms. The development of the VR labs for E&M courses involves four distinct phases: (I) Lab Design, (II) Experience Design, (III) Software Development, and (IV) User Testing. During phase I, the learning goals and possible outcomes are clearly defined, to provide context for themore »VR laboratory experience, and to identify possible technical constraints pertaining to the specific laboratory exercise. During stage II, the environment (the world) the player (user) will experience is designed, along with the foundational elements, such as ways of navigation, key actions, and immersion elements. During stage III, the software is generated as part of the course projects for the Virtual Reality course taught in the Computer Science Department at the same university, or as part of independent research projects involving engineering students. This reflects the strong educational impact of this project, as it allows students to contribute to the educational experiences of their peers. During phase IV, the VR experiences are played by different types of audiences that fit the player type. The team collects feedback and if needed, implements changes. The pilot VR Lab, introduced as an additional instructional tool for the E&M course during the Fall 2019, engaged over 100 students in the program, where in addition to the regular lectures, students attended one hour per week in the E&M VR lab. Student competencies around conceptual understanding of electromagnetism topics are measured via formative and summative assessments. To evaluate the effectiveness of VR learning, each lab is followed by a 10-minute multiple-choice test, designed to measure conceptual understanding of the various topics, rather than the ability to simply manipulate equations. This paper discusses the implementation and the pedagogy of the Virtual Reality laboratory experiences to visualize concepts in E&M, with examples for specific labs, as well as challenges, and student feedback with the new approach. We will also discuss the integration of the 3D visualizations into lab exercises, and the design of the student assessment tools used to assess the knowledge gain when the VR technology is employed.« less
  5. This work-in-progress research paper explores the intersection of cross-functional teamwork and design thinking within the course design process through collaborative autoethnography. Collaborative autoethnography uses individual and dialogic reflections to provide a detailed and nuanced exploration of experiences within a culture (e.g., a course design team) and generate insights that might inform broader community of individuals who experience related cultures. In this study, we investigate how individual educators attempt to shape and are shaped by a unique team course design process in electrical and computer engineering. The participant-researchers in this study are three electrical and computer engineering faculty members and one engineering education researcher who have participated in a six-semester-long course redesign effort. The effort has emphasized building and utilizing a new cross-functional team approach, imbued with design thinking strategies, to support improved professional formation and student-centeredness within an embedded systems course for electrical and computer engineering students. In this study, data collection and analysis were integrated and iterative. This process engaged cycles of setting writing prompts, individual writing, group discussion and reflection, and setting new writing prompts. This process was repeated as participant-researchers and the team as a whole refined their insights, explored emergent topics, and connected their observations tomore »external research and scholarship. The autoethnographic process is ongoing, but five themes have emerged that describe key features of the team course design process and experience: (1) uncertainty, (2) navigating the team, (3) navigating the self, (4) navigating the system, and (5) process. The paper features a collection of participant-researcher reflections related to these emergent themes.« less