Research & Projects

Below are descriptions of several projects that are affiliated with NCEER. Note that NCEER co-directors and scholars are available to consult on engineering education research projects and education components of proposal applications.

Ongoing Research Projects

Investigating and Improving Engineering Students’ Mathematical Modeling Abilities in Capstone Design

Sponsor: Murphy Society Project Grant
Investigators: Jennifer Cole, Robert Linsenmeier, Matthew Glucksberg

This project investigates students' abilities to generate mathematical models that they can use in the development of innovative design solutions to open-ended problems. In particular, we will continue to study the students' approach, creation, solution, and interpretation of mathematical models, which our previous work has found to be a difficult part of design. We will continue to analyze student work in capstone design courses in two departments, and analyze the utility of an instructional intervention designed to guide students through the modeling process. The results of this study will lead to recommendations on how to improve instruction in mathematical modeling, a practical skill that students need in engineering careers. This project is an outgrowth of the NSF-funded CADEX project described below.

Completed Research Projects

Bioengineering Education Research - Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

Sponsor: The National Science Foundation
Investigators: Robert Linsenmeier, Stacy Klein-Gardner

The Bioengineering Education Research REU is a joint project of Northwestern, Vanderbilt and the University of Texas at Austin. It completed the last of its three summer sessions in 2012, and currently has a renewal application pending with the NSF to restart in the summer of 2014. 

This REU program descended from the VaNTH REU, and is dedicated to training undergraduate students in basic education research techniques and learning theory while they create or assess new learning materials in biomedical engineering. 

Under faculty mentors, students work on projects such as developing learning technology modules, creating middle school curriculum units and other K-12 outreach projects, and assessing engineering education innovations. They also attend weekly sessions on research ethics and oral and written communication. 

Exploring the Role of Computational Adaptive Expertise in Design and Innovation ("CADEX")

Sponsor: The National Science Foundation
Investigators: Jennifer Cole, Matthew Glucksberg, Robert Linsenmeier

This project seeks to advance both basic and applied understanding of how to prepare engineering graduates to effectively and efficiently contribute to America's leadership in technological innovation. Society's most pressing technological needs such as national security, public health, and environmental sustainability, to name a few, require substantial subject matter knowledge to develop realistic solutions to meet these needs. Specifically, engineering solutions to modern technological needs require, at their core, foundational analytic skills and facility with modern computational tools and methods. As educators/researchers we are compelled to better understand how learners can effectively bring this complex knowledge to bear in the process of innovation. Therefore this project is exploring the role that computational and analytical abilities play in innovation in the context of a conceptual framework that has recently emerged in the engineering education literature: adaptive expertise.

Prototyping the Engineer of 2020: A 360-degree Study of Effective Education

Sponsor: The National Science Foundation
Investigators: Ann McKenna, Lois Trautvetter, Lisa Lattuca, Patrick Terenzini, Rose Marra, Betsy Palmer

This study is a multi-institutional collaboration that includes Penn State University as the lead institution, Northwestern University, University of Montana, and the University of Missouri. In this study we will identify and analyze the curricular, pedagogical, cultural, and organizational features of engineering programs that support high-quality and innovative engineering education that is well aligned with the goals of the Engineer of 2020. Specifically, the study concentrates on the following three attributes of the engineer of 2020: design and problem solving skills, interdisciplinary competence, and contextual competence. The aim is to not only understand what works, but also discover why and how it works. Significant attention will be given to the factors that affect engineering students who are women and members of historically underrepresented groups.

Annals of Research on Engineering Education (AREE)

Sponsor: The National Science Foundation, Sub-award from the National Academy of Sciences
Investigators: Ann McKenna, Norman Fortenberry, Beth Cady, Wendy Knapp, Karl Smith

The Annals of Research on Engineering Education (AREE) is an experiment in collaborative scholarship linking education researchers across disciplinary boundaries in order to provide access to the latest education research and offer guidance on education research methodology. AREE is a collaborative venture of the Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education and leading journals of education research in engineering and science fields. NCEER co-director, Ann McKenna, serves as the managing editor of AREE and is investigating how the site can be used to create a collaborative online community of engineering education researchers.

Promoting Innovative Design: An Investigation of Adaptive Expertise

Sponsor: Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education (CASEE)
Investigators: Mica Hutchison and Ann McKenna

In an effort to understand how educators might create the most effective opportunities for introducing students to innovative thinking, this study investigates students' use of innovation in their development of design solutions. Researchers hypothesize that problem-solving environments influence the degree to which learners exhibit innovative problem-solving approaches. Guided by Schwartz, Bransford, and Sears' adaptive expertise framework – a construct describing performance on two axes representing efficiency and innovation – we explore students' perceptions of the problem-solving environment and the influence those perceptions have on their use of innovative approaches. Specifically, we investigate two components of innovation: knowledge-application innovation (i.e. the ability to recognize when certain knowledge applies) and solution innovation (i.e. the range and novelty of ideas produced in the solution search).

Collaborative Research – NSF Workshop Series: Interdisciplinary Design as an Instructional Discipline

Sponsor: The National Science Foundation
Partner Institutions: Penn State University, Northwestern University, Stanford University & University of Michigan

Design is an integrative activity that spans many disciplines; however, our educational system often struggles to provide interdisciplinary design experiences for our undergraduate and graduate students and to recognize the significance of design research. Recently, new and innovative interdisciplinary graduate programs in design have arisen with strong ties to engineering yet are structured to fully embrace and complement research from other disciplines. These graduate programs have the potential to influence the development of a new discipline of design that includes both education and research. Interdisciplinary education is a central factor in expanding and sustaining an American competitive advantage in today's global economy. This project is conducting a series of workshops on Interdisciplinary Design as an Instructional Discipline to be held over a 12-month period. Workshops will be held at the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and in conjunction with the 2009 NSF CMII Grantees Conference and the 2009 ASME International Design Engineering Technical Conferences. These workshops will address issues related to supporting the emerging discipline of design through graduate education and interdisciplinary design research. Participants from a broad range of disciplines, including engineering, architecture, industrial design, visual arts, psychology, and business, among others, will be invited to attend.