Travel Grant 2014-15: Matthew Siniawski

Matthew Siniawski, Mechanical Engineering

Mudd Design Workshop
May 28-30, 2015
Claremont, CA

Nature/Type of the Event

The goal of the 2015 Mudd Design Workshop is to bring together engineers, designers, and educators to explore the role of design thinking in the design education process and how design thinking education may be better addressed through different pedagogies.

Relevance of the Event for Applicant's Teaching and LMU Community, the Applicant's Involvement in the Event, and Expected Learning as Outcome

Participation in this workshop will help us learn about different ways to teach engineering design, particularly engineering design thinking. Design thinking always keeps the needs of the user at the center of the product development process. At the core of this process is a bias towards action and creation: by creating and testing a prototype, engineering students can continue to learn and improve upon his or her initial ideas.

Attending this workshop is highly relevant, as I teach engineering design in various courses, particularly in our first year introduction to engineering course and in the mechanical engineering senior capstone design courses. We recently introduced a simple design thinking process to students in these courses, particularly to those students working on service-learning projects. Examples of these service-learning projects include the design of assistive technologies for children with disabilities in partnership with WISH Charter Elementary. Having our students employ design thinking methods while working on such projects is highly critical for their ultimate success – as the end goal is to design something that best meets the needs of our community partners. Our initial findings were very promising – students, especially females, who participated in the service-learning course and were exposed to design thinking, had much higher gains in confidence in technical engineering skills.

This workshop will help us to better understand how to teach design thinking and will expose us to specific pedagogical tools that we will be able to use in our classes. It will allow us to refine our approach to teaching design thinking by learning from renowned experts in the area. Our refined pedagogy will potentially further enhance the benefits we observed for our engineering students.

Travel Report

The 2015 Mudd Design Workshop was held on May 28 – 30, 2015 at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA. The workshop brought together engineers, designers, and educators to explore the role of design thinking in the design education process. It also allowed us to discuss how design-thinking education is addressed through different approaches and pedagogies.

Many different topics related to design thinking were address. Topics were organized into the following general sessions:

  • Design thinking tools and techniques
  • Resource constrained environments and related approaches
  • Physical realization
  • Design thinking context and feedback
  • Early college exposure
  • Curricular design thinking

Some of the major questions that were addressed throughout the workshop included "How is design thinking related to engineering?" and "How can we incorporate design thinking into engineering education?" There were many different opinions and discussions throughout the workshop that centered on these questions. Different approaches were discussed and specific examples were shared describing how design thinking was incorporated into different engineering courses and curricula.

What I already knew about design thinking was further reinforced – it is a human-centered approach to design and involves understanding and keeping people's needs in mind throughout the creative process. The whole design thinking process begins with and relies on empathy. Teaching our engineering students about design thinking can not only make them better engineers, but can make them better people that are more in tuned with being men and women for others.

I plan to continue incorporating design-thinking methodologies into my first-year Introduction to Engineering course and my senior-level Capstone Design Project I and II courses. These involve service-learning projects and are particularly suited to incorporate design thinking. As a result of attending this workshop, I learned about a few new techniques and tools that can further enhance the learning experience of our students, as described below.

  • I will start to provide feedback to students about their design projects using "I like..." and "I wish..." statements. People, students included, tend to be personally attached to their creative work and starting your feedback with these words helps provide constructive feedback in a positive manner.
  • I will teach students how to respond to feedback. I learned that there are three main steps involved: 1) accept the feedback and thank the person providing it, 2) think and reflect about the feedback, and 3) decide on what to do with the feedback. This technique can also help lesson any negative feelings associated with someone's work being criticized.
  • I will require students to provide formal design feedback to other student teams. I've explored this in the past, but feedback has primarily been provided by TA's, industry advisors, and myself. Students need to learn how to provide feedback and will learn to be better designers and engineers by doing so. There are different ways to do this, such as team shadowing or round robin reviews.
  • I will stress the importance of failure when designing. Design thinking is geared toward action and the rapid building, testing, and changing of design prototypes. Design engineers learn a tremendous amount of information from their mistakes. I will work to provide a supportive atmosphere than encourages students to make mistakes as long as they learn something from those mistakes. This takes a change in mindset, as our society does not necessarily encourage failure.

Incorporating these small changes into my courses that use design thinking will help to enhance student learning. I will continue to improve my understanding of design thinking and my techniques for teaching it to students. In addition, I would also like to eventually explore offering a FFYS course in design thinking, which would help bring to light the strong multidisciplinary nature of design thinking.