S4-SP6-2 - Chaos and Control: How First-Year and Upper-Level Students Experienced Design Differently in a Project-Based Class

3. Research Full Paper
Reid Bailey1
1 University of Virginia

To give first-year engineering students the chance to learn from upper-level students and to provide upper-level students with leadership experience, we created a class that purposefully mixed these two groups on design teams.  The one-semester class was centered on a term-long project where teams of four to five students designed products for elementary-aged children.  Each team had a mix of first-year and upper-level students.  During the projects, the teams iteratively navigated understanding their users, formulating the problem, deciding what product to design, designing their product, and building a fully operational prototype that their end users could test.  In this paper, we compare the main learnings of the first-year and upper-level students to see how they are similar and how they are different.

We use the final reflections of students as a lens into their learning.  The final reflections were structured around a six-slide template wherein students selected an icon, two photos, a quote, a number, and a pivotal moment on successive slides to represent something they learned from the class.  Each slide also contained a written description of the “learning” represented on that slide.

Results showed upper-level students and first-year students had different experiences in the class, largely centered around their different conceptions of time.  Compared to first-year students, upper-level students were more focused on time management, including the importance of planning and the significant workload that design requires.  Keep designs simple so that you can get them done! Seek control to reduce your stress in the messy world of design. First-year students, on the other hand, had a proportionally higher focus on iteration and empathizing with users.  Iteratively improve your design so that it better meets user needs!  Embrace the chaos of the messy world of design. At the root of these differences appears to be that time had a fundamentally different meaning to first-year students compared to upper-level students; time as an investment in products that better meet users’ needs (first-year) versus time as a resource to be managed (upper-level).