Creating Meaningful Learning Experiences: Understanding Students' Perspectives of Engineering Design
Aleong, Richard James
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There is a societal need for design education to prepare holistic engineers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to innovate and compete globally. Design skills are paramount to the espoused values of higher education, as institutions of higher learning strive to develop in students the cognitive abilities of critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. To meet these interests from industry and academia, it is important to advance the teaching and learning of engineering design. This research aims to understand how engineering students learn and think about design, as a way for engineering educators to optimize instructional practice and curriculum development. Qualitative research methodology was used to investigate the meaning that engineering students’ ascribe to engineering design. The recruitment of participants and corresponding collection of data occurred in two phases using two different data collection techniques. The first phase involved the distribution of a one-time online questionnaire to all first year, third year, and fourth year undergraduate engineering students at three Canadian Universities. After the questionnaire, students were asked if they would be willing to participate in the second phase of data collection consisting of a personal interview. A total of ten students participated in interviews. Qualitative data analysis procedures were conducted on students’ responses from the questionnaire and interviews. The data analysis process consisted of two phases: a descriptive phase to code and categorize the data, followed by an interpretative phase to generate further meaning and relationships. The research findings present a conceptual understanding of students’ descriptions about engineering design, structured within two educational orientations: a learning studies orientation and a curriculum studies orientation. The learning studies orientation captured three themes of students’ understanding of engineering design: awareness, relevance, and transfer. With this framework of student learning, engineering educators can enhance learning experiences by engaging all three levels of students’ understanding. The curriculum studies orientation applied the three holistic elements of curriculum—subject matter, society, and the individual—to conceptualize design considerations for engineering curriculum and teaching practice. This research supports the characterization of students’ learning experiences to help educators and students optimize their teaching and learning of design education.