Exploring novice engineers’ mental models of collaboration and engineering design




Edwards, Rebecca L.

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Engineering educators have called for research on how best to foster and assess the development of collaborative expertise, particularly around engineering design. Mental models are internal representations depicting understanding. The quality of mental models and their similarity amongst group members have been found to influence performance and group processes in a range of disciplines: For example, flight, military, medical, and business teams. The purpose of this thesis was to examine three attributes (content, structure, within-group similarity) of the mental models of first-year undergraduate engineering students hold about both collaboration and engineering design in the context of a course-based engineering design project. Participants were 251 undergraduate engineering students enrolled in a first-year engineering course. Mental models were measured using relatedness ratings. This exploratory study drew upon network analysis indices and used descriptive, correlational, and comparative statistical techniques. Findings indicate (a) monitoring was viewed as the least central collaborative idea represented in the engineering students’ mental models, (b) quality or expertise is indicated by the level of connection pruning in students’ mental models, (c) performance and the quality of mental models of collaboration are associated, and (d) within-group collaborative mental model compatibility was more related to performance than mental model overlap. This study contributes to engineering education by suggesting mental models of the collaborative process are an essential factor to consider when preparing undergraduate engineering students to engage in collaborative engineering design.



collaboration, engineering design, mental models, engineering education, collaborative learning