Connected Design Rationale: Modeling and Measuring Engineering Design Learning
Arastoopour Irgens, Golnaz
Design thinking is central to 21st century problem solving and thus, is central to engineering education. Design work is inherently complex and multi-faceted but fundamentally requires two key skills: (1) making appropriate design moves—actions taken during the design process and (2) providing explicit design rationale—justifications for chosen design moves. Moreover, learning sciences research argues that learning a practice, such as engineering design, centers on understanding the connections among actions and justifications rather than measuring isolated instances of skills and knowledge. Modeling and measuring the complex nature of authentic design learning, however, remains a challenge. Thus, the goal of my dissertation work is to merge current learning sciences research with design education to develop an approach for modeling and measuring design thinking. Building on existing learning theories, I hypothesize that design learning can be effectively modeled as a network of relationships among design moves and justifications—what I call a connected design rationale. To test this hypothesis, part one of this study examines how students in a real-world engineering internship learned design with the guidance of professional engineers. Part two of this study investigates connected design rationale in more detail by examining digital log data from high and low outcome students in a virtual internship program. Finally, part three of this study compares the virtual internship students to the real-world professional engineers. The results show that modeling design learning in terms of connections distinguishes among various levels of expertise, and thus, suggest that connected design rationale is a useful method for measuring design thinking. By better understanding the development of design skills, this work begins to shed light on a complex process that is fundamental to design education.