We report on a study of the ways in which elementary students approach engineering design feedback. By feedback, we mean information that describes how a process or product meets or strays from particular criteria. Giving and accepting feedback from different stakeholders at different points in time is one way that professional engineers improve the quality of their design processes and solutions. Participation in the exchange of feedback can be a meaningful activity for students learning engineering design. At the pre-college level, researchers have begun to look at the ways in which design critique protocols influence students’ design discourse. However, there are still many open questions about how elementary students give and receive feedback and how feedback experiences influence their engineering learning.
Here we present a case study illustrating how one team of third graders handled the task of generating peer feedback during a science-engineering integrated unit. Grounded in the perspective that learning engineering involves becoming a more proficient participant in design practices, our study explores the research question, What intellectual, social, and emotional demands do elementary students navigate while collaboratively generating peer feedback on engineering designs?
The focus episode of this study occurred during the eighth lesson of a 10-lesson unit on forces and motion and wheelchair-accessible playground design. For the unit’s design task, students designed, built, and tested small-scale functional prototypes of playground equipment on a 12-inch square foam platform. Teams documented their process in a team design notebook. In the hour-long feedback session, each design team generated written feedback for three other groups. A handout provided a checklist of questions to prompt students to attend to the details of their peers’ work and to avoid empty praise (e.g., “Good job!”) or overly generic feedback (e.g., “It works.”). The handout also had free response areas with prompts of “Something that impressed us” and “A suggestion for improvement” for the other team’s physical prototype and their design notebook.
Data for this qualitative descriptive case study consist of video, audio, and written artifacts from one student triad during the entire feedback session. Using interaction analysis methods, we found that two major tensions arose for the three students as they attempted to collaboratively generate feedback for other teams’ design products and processes. Confronting these tensions required substantial social and emotional regulation efforts by the students. The two tensions that the students actively discussed were (a) whether to prioritize being “honest” or being “kind” to the other team and (b) whether to critique the design artifact as it had been fabricated or to critique the ideas assumed to be behind it (but perhaps not successfully expressed).
This study has implications for engineering educators seeking to support students in generating useful but respectful feedback, making sense of prompts for different kinds of feedback, and navigating the social and emotional challenges of feedback sessions.
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