Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence

Publication Details

European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI 40th. Annual Conference THessaloniki, Greece. 2012


There is an extensive base of literature that attempts to describe how college students understand “knowledge” and their role in generating it. Educators draw from this literature to help students develop increasingly sophisticated ways of using knowledge. Although existing research aims for broad generalizability, it is clear that various disciplines have developed their own unique value systems. Scholars of “hard,” physical science are likely to hold very different ideas about the nature of “fact” and “inevitability” than those in the “softer,” social sciences [1]. Various disciplines conceptualize, use, and generate new knowledge in ways that differ dramatically, yet little research has been done to probe epistemological differences. To help address the existing deficit of knowledge, this paper investigates epistemologies that are specific to design-related disciplines. It presents a new tool—a rubric—that can be used to assess the cognitive, intellectual, and epistemological development of students who are learning to design. The rubric is appropriate for use with students of engineering, architecture, art, and a host of other fields that require creative thinking (e.g., product and software design). Design students must learn to integrate rational, analytical, and intuitive thinking in the development of meaningful, creative, and elegant solutions, objects, products, structures, and places. Fostering such ability appears to be critical for the development of society as a whole [2]. Constructing knowledge in areas where levels of agreement are low and uncertainty is high—or where situations and contexts are emerging or transient—requires a process of continual re-negotiation [3]. At this point in time, technology is changing quickly, as are what Kunstler [4] calls “the categories of knowledge and interpretation.” He insists “the nature of cognition and information processing itself” is shifting dramatically. The Boyer Commission’s report on educating undergraduates recognizes transformation of this sort [5]. It identifies interdisciplinary programs and studio-based pedagogies as effective ways to prepare students for an uncertain future. Understanding and managing design students’ development is key to promoting their healthy, positive growth [6, 7]. This paper unveils a new Epistemological Development Rubric for Designers, created to help educators assess students’ epistemological understandings and also track changes in students over time (please see Table 1).