Task Interpretation, Cognitive, and Metacognitive Strategies of Higher and Lower Performers in an Engineering Design Project: An Exploratory Study of College Freshmen

Oenardi Lawanto, Utah State University
Deborah Butler
Sylvie Cartier
Harry B. Santoso
Wade H. Goodridge, Utah State University


This paper examines the task interpretation and strategy use of higher- and lower-performing college freshmen while engaged in an engineering design project using a self-regulated learning (SRL) framework. Our goals were to consider how students’ interpretation of task demands could be associated with their use of planning, cognitive, and monitoring/fix-up strategies, both as part of the design process and when managing their time, resources and teamwork. The main research question that guided the study was: In what ways did higher- vs. lower-performing students differ when engaged in an engineering design project? With regards to this question, we specifically explored how these two groups of students were similar or different in their: (1) task interpretation in relation to reported strategy use during the design process; and (2) task interpretation in relation to reported strategy use in project management. Seventy freshman engineering students enrolled in an introductory engineering design course at Utah State University were recruited for the study. From among that group, data from 20 higher- and 12 lower-performers were selected for analysis. Survey instruments and Web-based design journal entries were used to capture students’ task interpretation, reported strategy use, including planning (PS), cognitive (CS), and monitoring/fix-up strategies (MF), and perceptions of important performance criteria (CR). Students’ design performance was evaluated by the teacher. Descriptive and nonparametric statistics and graphical views were used to analyze student SRL profiles. Entries from students’ design journals were coded using an SRL model and interpreted to triangulate and complement survey data to achieve deeper insight about SRL between the two groups. The findings suggested that both higher- and lower-performers were highly aware of important task requirements. However, higherperforming students had a greater awareness and reported greater use of monitoring and fix-up strategies associated with success in the design process. The higher-performing students also obtained higher scores on criteria for performance than lower-performing students, both in the design process and project management. Furthermore, journal writings revealed that higher performers were more thorough in identifying and describing design requirements and strategies for their projects than were the lower performers. This paper discusses the potential implication for design instruction in engineering college freshmen.