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CAREER: Cognitive and Metacognitive Activities in Engineering Design Education

Funded by: National Science Foundation (NSF)
(NSF Award No. 1148806)
PI: Oenardi Lawanto (


The goal of this research is to improve the design skills of undergraduate engineering students through the practice of self-regulated learning (SRL). The practice of SRL develops students’ awareness of their thinking through metacognition. Metacognition is a process of thinking about thinking, which refers to students’ knowledge of their own cognitive processes or anything related to them. While there is growing interest in metacognitive research, few studies have evaluated it comprehensively in the context of engineering design. Design is one of the core competencies in which engineers are expected to be skillful, one of 11 program outcomes that ABET accredited engineering programs are required to fulfill. The goals of this project are to: (1) describe the metacognitive activities students engage in during engineering design processes; (2) build research protocols and tools that can be used within an on-going research program; and (3) strengthen educational practices through the development of activities to communicate the role of metacognition in design to engineering educators and students.

The proposed project will connect research and educational activities with the dual aim of better understanding and improving engineering student design processes. The main research components (Phases 1 and 2) will utilize a descriptive study to investigate student metacognition and the types of self-regulating and cognitive strategies employed during engineering design activities, in order to identify potential challenges. The project will not only utilize rigorous research methodologies that involve complex data collection and analysis processes; it also offers multiple transformative concepts, steps, and processes to improve engineering design education. An extension of research will also be integrated into the educational activities that are informed by the main research. As part of program evaluation efforts, research protocols will be developed to investigate whether and how planned interventions support challenges observed. Senior capstone design projects were selected to be the context of this research activity because they represent ubiquitous, complex, and ill-structured problems which prepare students with industrially-based projects.

The amount of funding: $461,031
Status: Started 2012