Document Type

Conference Paper


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

Publication Details

40th SEFI Conference, 23-26 September 2012, Thessaloniki, Greece


A novice designer is prone to making premature decisions. Rather than explore issues and research information and options, he may quickly jump to posing solutions and view design as a linear, step-by-step process. Instead of testing a variety of ideas, a beginning designer often becomes mesmerized by his initial ideas. An experienced designer, on the other hand, is much more likely conduct research and delay making decisions until the challenge has been fully explored [1]. She uses a variety of techniques to generate ideas, test them, and see how they inter-relate, sees design as an iterative process, has a variety of approaches, integrates feedback and reflects on the design process. She uses rational inquiry to cross-reference and integrate ideas, information, and personal experience. Such behaviour reflects beliefs about knowledge and its creation and such actions are hallmarks of the relativistic thinker [5] who can set goals, reflect on thinking, identify what is needed and understand why it is necessary. Although the individual seeks new experiences and multiple views, she also seeks to achieve well-integrated solutions that are simple (as opposed to simplistic). This person is able to confront discontinuities and paradoxes, ask key questions, resolve key dilemmas, and generate new insights. According to Belenky et al. [7], such a person is inherently reflective, passionate about knowing, and willing to struggle to achieve balance. The novice and expert enact very different personal epistemologies, in particular how they view themselves as sources of knowledge, how they justify decisions and view knowledge as fixed or tentative[1].

In this study, we explore how personal epistemology influences the design process in the context of a project-based learning (PBL) module in which students are asked to design, build and test simple measurement systems to create a weather station. The curriculum is largely traditional in nature but has seen a small but significant increase in the amount of PBL in the last few years. Many, often competing, decisions must be made by the students throughout this module, for example when designing the signal conditioning circuits or choosing the variables, and many can rush through this process, failing to justify their choices and making decisions for arbitrary reasons. Were they to pay more attention to the decision making process the students, with little extra work, could engage more fully with the module, produce better artifacts and achieve higher grades. In this paper we argue prior knowledge and motivation, other key drivers of the learning process along with epistemology [2], are not the reasons why some students lacked independence and failed to justify many of their decisions in this module.

[1] S. Chance discusses these topics in greater detail in another paper included in this set of proceedings.


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Engineering Commons