NSF funded “Collaborative Research: Evaluating the Impact of Teaching Function in an Engineering Design Curriculum” in the Fall of 2015. Since then, the PIs have been investigating the relationships between the level of student knowledge of functional modeling with (1) the ability to explore the solution space during design, (2) the ability to generate quality designs, and (3) the ability to represent and understand engineered systems. The primary goal of their ongoing research is to have quantitative data that explains the actual impact functional modeling has on engineering design. The importance of the research lies in the lack of actual, physical data to demonstrate the positive correlation between functional modeling and engineering design in the educational sphere prior to their studies. Furthermore, the PIs overarching hypothesis is that formal training in functional modeling practice increases students’ overall design comprehension.
Initial work done by the PIs showed that students who were only taught functional modeling through lecture were outperformed by students who were given additional help outside of lecture using a step-by-step example and rules for model generation. To further investigate the impact of different functional model teaching tools on students’ understanding, the PIs studied a control group who only learned the basic meaning of function and a treatment group who received functional modeling instruction. Student assessment was comprised of a FunSkill quiz which tested the students’ ability to identify function, describe functionality, understand functional translation of design objectives, and create a functional model. The follow-on study showed that the treatment group successfully outperformed the control group in differentiating different design’s function, enumerating functions, and generating higher quality functional models.
Further studies uncovered that students appear to be able to retain their ability to generate adequate functional models even after seven weeks of not practicing functional modeling generation. In a continuation of the exploration of quantifying functional modeling’s impact on the design process, it was found that students who learned about functional modeling and functional enumeration appeared to be better at identifying low-level functions that are critical for systems thinking compared to the students who were taught only functional enumeration.
Stemming from the initial function-based investigations, the PIs have become interested in students’ abilities to generate mental models. Most recently, the team developed a tool to assess mental models and examine the impact of functional modeling on that mental model. Initial studies have asked students to break down a product into its components. They were then taught functionality and were asked to repeat the first task. Initial results show that students appeared to be unable to distinguish functional similarities of two products that were unfamiliar to them. However, the same students were able to distinguish functional similarities of products they were familiar with prior to the study.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.