Further Characterization of High School Pre- and Non-Engineering Students' Cognitive Activity During Engineering Design
Grubbs, Michael Edwin
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In response to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) educational reform, pedagogical approaches such as technological/engineering design-based learning (T/E DBL) have received increased emphasis as a means to enrich student learning and develop their higher-order cognitive competencies. Despite students exposure to the T and E of STEM as a means to make connections and improve learning (NAE and NRC, 2009), there still exists minimal evidence such experiences have a positive impact on their cognition and achievement (Honey, Pearson, and Schweingruber, 2014). Additionally, although research has well illustrated the design cognition of professional designers, and even students at the collegiate level, few investigations of high school students' cognitive activity during designing has been undertaken (Crismond and Adams, 2012; Hynes, 2012; Lammi and Becker, 2013). Furthermore, as researchers have begun to address this gap, broad coding schemes have been employed, describing students' cognitive efforts in terms of comprehensive categories such as formulation, analysis, and synthesis. However, as previous research has demonstrated nuances among existing categories (Purcell, Gero, Edwards, and McNeill, 1996), what has yet to be done is describe K-12 students' cognitive behaviors in terms of these underlying mechanisms. The purpose of this study was to characterize students' cognitive processes during engineering design at a more distinct level, which can increase understanding and begin to address the minimal attempts to 'connect research findings on how people design with what teachers need to understand and do to help K-16 students improve their design capability and learn through design activities" (Crismond and Adams, 2012, p. 738). The methodology of this study was informed by procedures of cognitive science and verbal protocol analysis. The primary form of data analyzed was audio and video recordings of the design task. The recorded data, in transcript form, was coded using the Purcell, Gero, Edwards, and McNeill (1996) framework. These coded data were then analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. Findings from this study revealed that significant differences existed between high school seniors who took pre-engineering courses, and those who did not when engaged in Consulting Information about the Problem (Cp) and in considering System issues, which examined the problem from the point of view of the user. Additionally, Proposing a Solution (Ps), Postponing a Design Action (Pd), and Looking Back (Lb) approached a value of statistical significance in differences between the groups of participants. Findings also characterized how students exert the most and least amount of their cognitive effort in relation to the Problem Domain: Degree of Abstraction and Strategy Classification coding schemes.
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