Design-learning Preferences of First-year Electrical and Computer Engineering Students

Christopher D. Schmitz, Jake Fava, Sneha Subramanian

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Modern engineering curricula seek to include project-based design in order to prepare engineering graduates for industry. Human-centered design is a problem-solving approach that identifies the unmet need of a population in order to collaboratively and iteratively develop solutions. Integrating engineering experiential learning with human-centered design practices support students in developing skills that closely resemble real-world engineering practices.

In order to identify design opportunities that allows us to effectively integrate human-centered design in engineering practices, this work-in-progress qualitative research study will explore attitudes and perceptions of engineering students around the role of design in engineering education through interviewing current students in an introductory engineering design course and students who have taken the course in the past. The study will also investigate the challenges of teaching engineering design and methods of overcoming them through interviews with teaching assistants (TAs) of the same course and instructors - both of this course and other design-related courses. This study is part of a series of research projects led by a newly-established design center at a large midwestern university [blinded for review]. The center collaborates with other units on campus to conduct research on the student experience, with the intent of using research findings to design experiences that meet the needs and desires of students.

The study is taking place in an undergraduate engineering course that introduces 410 engineering students to electrical engineering. In Fall 2020, there are 16 laboratory sections of this course. Each section has 9-32 students as of October 12, 2020 and is facilitated by 2 graduate teaching assistants per lab.

Over the course of the research, the team will conduct qualitative interviews with 5-10 students currently in the course, 3-5 TAs for the course, 2-4 instructors, and 4-8 students that have taken the course in the past. Additionally, the research team is developing a series of educational modules that introduce students in the course to a variety of human-centered design topics. Submissions to these assignments from research participants will be released to the research team upon consent.

Through these conversations, the team hopes to gain some insight into the engineering students of today - how they perceive the relationship between design and engineering, what they hope to gain from their education, and ultimately what we can do as educators to tailor materials to address misconceptions or biases in design thought that students might have. Talking to students who have taken the class in the past will offer a glimpse into how students’ attitudes and perceptions shift throughout their college careers, and capturing TA and instructor perceptions will be integral to understanding the existing constraints, challenges, and approaches to teaching design in engineering courses. Findings from this research will be used to inform future iterations of design integration into engineering curricula.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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