In this paper, the authors report on progress of a longitudinal study on the impact of design education on students’ design thinking and practice. Using innovations in cognitive science and new methods of protocol analysis, the authors are working with engineering students to characterize their design cognition as they progress through engineering curricula. In this paper, the results from a protocol study of sophomore Mechanical Engineering students are presented. Specifically, data gathered from two experimental sessions (conducted before and after the students’ introductory design course) are analyzed to identify changes in design thinking cognition. Design cognition is determined using protocol analysis with the coding of the protocols based on a general design ontology, namely, the Function-Behavior-Structure (FBS) as a principled coding scheme (as opposed to an ad hoc one). Preliminary results indicate that statistically significant changes in students’ design cognition occur over the course of their sophomore year. The change manifests itself in an increase in focus on the purposes of designs being produced, which is often a precursor to the production a higher quality designs, and an increase in the design processes associated with the introduction of purposes of designs.

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