Assessing the impact of physical prototyping in first-year engineering education

Steven K. Ayer, Robert Michael Leicht, Christie A. Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


To improve first year engineering students' understanding of the design process, a collaborative bridge design project is given to Architectural Engineering students during their first year at Penn State. This paper examines the benefits of reverting to traditional physical prototyping techniques for students to better understand the design process and how to compose and interpret design documents. Students create a preliminary set of design documents, exchange documents with a group of their peers, physically build a prototype of their peers' design, and synthesize design feedback. This process of generating feedback from another group's design through building their bridge benefits the students by allowing them to improve their design document comprehension skills and by gaining formative design feedback from another group of students in their class. After the prototyping activity: students were more likely to recognize areas of deficiency of their own work as well as the work of others; they could comprehend their peers' work well enough to accurately predict the primary design intent of their peers' designs; and the quality of the design documentation submitted improved over prior semesters that did not involve a prototyping design review activity. While this exploratory research suggests several distinct learning benefits based on the obtained data, it was also found that students' self-reports suggest that they do not necessarily recognize the learning benefits from this type of prototyping activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationConstruction Research Congress 2012
Subtitle of host publicationConstruction Challenges in a Flat World, Proceedings of the 2012 Construction Research Congress
Number of pages10
StatePublished - Sep 19 2012
EventConstruction Research Congress 2012: Construction Challenges in a Flat World - West Lafayette, IN, United States
Duration: May 21 2012May 23 2012


OtherConstruction Research Congress 2012: Construction Challenges in a Flat World
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityWest Lafayette, IN

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction


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