Student perceptions of engineering design across the curriculum at a large Australian university

Kevin Sevilla, Jan Meyer, Chris Perez-Compton

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperConference paperpeer-review


    CONTEXT Engineering education is a discipline that seeks to directly prepare its graduates for a seamless transition into industry. This goal has necessitated that universities understand the industry demands of their graduates and create programs that scaffold their students’ technical and professional skills accordingly. While previous research has been completed on high-school students’ perceptions of engineering, student perceptions of design whilst in school, and across the curriculum, there remains an understudied period in which students have elected to pursue engineering but have yet to be influenced by the university. PURPOSE OR GOAL The purpose of this study was to identify student perceptions of design prior to university influence. This focal point’s importance is linked to its ability to hear students’ perceptions of design independent of curricular influence, then to compare these with students who were approaching the completion of their degree to see what impacts the curriculum had on their perceptions of design. The research question affiliated with these aims was “What are students’ perceptions of design in Year 1 and Year 4? In what instances are these perceptions similar and in what instances are they different?” APPROACH This study involved the development of an 11-item free-response questionnaire that addressed students’ perceptions of design. This questionnaire asked for students to identify reasons that influenced their decision to become an engineering student, articulate what they thought about design, where these thoughts originated, how they identified good design, and, how their perceptions of design had changed over time. The questionnaire was administered to 449 1st year statics students and 154 4th year civil engineering design students for comparison. In total, 603 students completed the questionnaire resulting in approximately 3000 individual item responses. ACTUAL OR ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES The results of this study showed the similarities and differences between 1st and 4th year students’ perceptions of design. Overall, 1st year students made more references to their perceptions of the importance of their technical contributions to design in connection with how their designs were received; 4th year students, on the other hand, tended to focus mostly on meeting the needs of the design as specified by the client. This emphasis on the client was articulated through repeated references to Australian codes and standards, cost, depth of calculations, and a decreased emphasis on creativity, innovation, and aesthetics. CONCLUSIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS/SUMMARY Differences in perceptions of design across the curriculum were to be expected. While the identified differences between 1st and 4th year students revolved around a few specific constructs, the general trends showed 1st year students perceptions of design in broader terms and greater optimism than 4th year students. 1st year students’ concerns over their personal technical contribution in connection with the empathy of the client seemed to change to a client-focused model by the end of the curriculum. The philosophical question that this result posits is whether or not this is a desirable outcome for engineering programs or not, and if not, what to do about it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of the 25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education
    Place of PublicationBarton, ACT
    PublisherMassey University
    Number of pages8
    Publication statusPublished - 2014
    Event25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education: AAEE 2014 - Te Papa Tongarewa National Museum of New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand
    Duration: 08 Dec 201410 Dec 2014 (Conference handbook);isbn=9780473304287;res=IELENG (published papers)


    Conference25th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education
    Abbreviated titleEngineering the Knowledge Economy: Collaboration, Engagement & Employability
    Country/TerritoryNew Zealand
    Internet address


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