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  1. The practice of prototyping is challenging to novice designers as they underutilize insights that prototyping offers to solving design problem. Central to this challenge is the abstract nature of design concepts like idea representation, iteration, and problem solution-space exploration. A unique opportunity from mathematics education presents itself for design educators and facilitators; that is, teaching with manipulatives. We seek to transfer such practices in mathematics education to design education and practice. Challenges exist for design researchers to carefully craft activities in design education mainly because of the open-endedness of problems, decision-making that takes place while designing, and the inherent uncertainties in the design problems. Ultimately, the goal is to develop students’ ability to flexibly transfer expertise to other contexts and new design challenges.
  2. Practical ingenuity is demonstrated in engineering design through many ways. Students and practitioners alike create many iterations of prototypes in solving problems and design challenges. While focus is on the end product and/or the process employed along the way, this study combines these interests to better understand the product and process through the roles of initial prototyping through the creation of such things as alpha prototypes, conceptual mock-ups, and other rapid prototypes. We explore the purposes and affordances of these low-fidelity prototypes in engineering design activity through both synthesis of different perspectives from literature to compose an integrated framework to characterize prototypes that are developed as part of ideation in designing, as well as historic and student examples and case studies. Studying prototyping (activity) and prototypes (artifacts) is a way to studying design thinking and how students and practitioners learn and apply a problem solving process to their work. Prototyping can make readily evident and explicit (through act of creating and the creations themselves) some of the thinking and insights of the engineering designer into the design problem. Initial, low-fidelity prototypes are characterized as prototypes that are not always elaborate depictions containing all the fine details of the design. Inmore »fact, features in a prototype do not always appear in the final design. The underpinning of this work is that prototyping, as a process, is an act of externalizing design thinking, embodying it through physical objects. While several prescriptive frameworks have been developed to describe what prototypes prototype and the role of prototype, the role of low-fidelity prototypes, specifically, lacks sufficient attention. We will present prototyping rather as an holistic mindset that can be a means to approach problem solving in a more accessible manner. It can be helpful to apply this sort of mindset approach from these initial problem understanding through functional decomposition to quickly communicate and learn by trial and building in learning loops to oneself, with an engineering design team, and to potential stakeholders outside the team.« less
  3. This is a research study that investigates the range of conceptions of prototyping in engineering design courses through exploring the conceptions and implementations from the instructors’ perspective. Prototyping is certainly an activity central to engineering design. The context of prototyping to support engineering education and practice has a range of implementations in an undergraduate engineering curriculum, from first-year engineering to capstone engineering design experiences. Understanding faculty conceptions’ of the reason, purpose, and place of prototyping can help illustrate how teaching and learning of the engineering design process is realistically implemented across a curriculum and how students are prepared for work practice. We seek to understand, and consequently improve, engineering design teaching and learning, through transformations of practice that are based on engineering education research. In this exploratory study, we interviewed three faculty members who teach engineering design in project-based learning courses across the curriculum of an undergraduate engineering program. This builds on related work done by the authors that previously investigated undergraduate engineering students’ conceptions of prototyping activities and process. With our instructor participants, a similar interview protocol was followed through semi-structured qualitative interviews. Data analysis has been undertaken through an emerging thematic analysis of these interview transcripts. Early findingsmore »characterize the focus on teaching the design process; the kind of feedback that the educators provide on students’ prototypes; students’ behavior while working on design projects; and educators’ perspectives on the design course. Understanding faculty conceptions with students’ conceptions of prototyping can shed light on the efficacy of using prototyping as an authentic experience in design teaching and learning. In project-based learning courses, particular issues of authenticity and assessment are under consideration, especially across the curriculum. More specifically, “proportions of problems” inform “problem solving” as one of the key characteristics in design thinking, teaching and learning. More attention to prototyping as part of the study of problem-solving processes can be useful to enhance understanding of the impact of instructional design. Challenges for teaching engineering design exist, and may be due to difficulties in framing design problems, recognizing what expertise students possess, and assessing their expertise to help them reach their goals, all at an appropriate place and ambiguity with student learning goals. Initial findings show that prototyping activities can help students become more reflective on their design. Scaffolded activities in prototyping can support self-regulated learning by students. The range of support and facilities, such as campus makerspaces, may also help students and instructors alike develop industry-ready engineering students.« less
  4. Prototyping in design provides ways to navigate ambiguity in the design problem, gain insight through the refinement of ideas, and aid in communication between team members. However, while designing, students often underutilize prototyping and do not consider it as an integral part of the design process. To facilitate the scaffolding of design activities, it is necessary first to understand students’ conceptions of prototyping. In this study, we use artifact elicitation interviews as a method to elicit students’ conceptions by moving from the specifics of the artifacts they brought with them to the interview, to their general understanding of prototyping. Participants in the study are students in an undergraduate sophomore design oriented, project-based learning course in a large southwestern university. Students were invited to participate in a screening survey. After potential participants suitable for the purpose of this study were identified, some were selected for a follow-up interview. The findings of the study describe students’ conceptions of “what counts” as a prototype; what is valued in a prototype; the benefits of, and challenges associated with prototyping; and differences between in-class and out-of-class prototyping activities. The findings of this study improve our understanding to effectively scaffold prototyping activities in design and experientialmore »learning.« less