Assessing One Aspect of Design Learning: Qualitative Analysis of Students’ Design Rationales

Elisabeth Cuddihy and Jennifer Turns
Department of Technical Communication
14 Loew Hall, Box 352195, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-2195, USA

This paper explores the ability of undergraduate engineering students to write effective design rationales that describe the reasoning driving their decisions as they create solutions for open-ended design problems. This study sought to uncover the ability that students have to write design rationales that effectively capture their justifications for key design decisions, identify the strengths and weaknesses found in the design rationales prepared by the students, and determine if the quality of the students’ design rationales improved with practice over the course of a 10-week academic quarter. While the students’ attitudes toward activities associated with design rationale were generally more negative than their attitudes toward the rest of the class activities, their written design rationales indicated improvement over the quarter in their ability to provide concise, discipline-specific justification for their design decisions. This paper presents findings that include students’ initial perceptions of their ability to justify design, their attitudes toward design rationale, the strategies that students used to justify key design decisions, and students’ ability to write design rationales based on principles from their academic discipline.


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