Iteration or the presence of cyclical patterns in design is a core aspect of the design process. Iteration is often necessary in design work for several reasons: there are many intertwined factors or phenomena affecting a design situation, there are multiple competing solutions for a given problem, and there are often opportunities to improve a design once an adequate solution has been identified. In design research, iteration is often studied at a macro-level, focusing on stages (e.g., ideation, modeling, and evaluation). These studies have provided vital insight into the design process and design thinking, however, iteration between stages is conceptually abstract and coarse-grained. High-order concepts such as stages are not easily redeployed as micro-strategies students can use to inform their step-by-step design actions or as action prompts teachers can use for struggling students. Fine-grained, action-by-action logged data can enable the detailed capture of students’ design process. These logs can then be analyzed for inventive and useful micro-strategies students employed. Next, identified micro-strategies may be redeployed to assist other students engaging in similar design projects or serve as teacher prompts.
This paper will examine the logged actions of 27 high school students who participated in the Solarize Your Home project. In this project, students were tasked to design a solar panel system for their home that met the utility use of their home (energy constraint) and that was within a realistic, set budget (financial constraint). Students used Energy3D, a CAD software with powerful simulation and analytical tools, to evaluate solar potential and panel output of designed arrays. Energy3D also logs students’ actions as they use the platform, from adding, removing, relocating and changing the efficiency of solar panels to daily, yearly, and selected group analysis of solar panel yield to many other non-solar energy related actions. Solar energy related actions are the focus of this study as this is the core of the design project. To analyze students’ actions for micro-iterations, continuous chains of solar related activities will be extracted from the activity log and qualitatively coded and categorized using the following characteristics: cyclical patterns in chains, composition or the types of actions included in chains/pattern, length of chains/patterns, and preceding/proceeding non-solar actions. Here patterns refer to iterative, continuous sets of solar actions (e.g., a student places a panel, tests is potential, and then moves and tests it again). Additionally, past research on design and iteration will be used to inform and contextualize the emergent iteration categories.
The micro-iterations identified through the above analysis may prove useful for students as micro-strategies: for exploring more of the design space, for conducting design experiments and for optimizing a design. Similar to design heuristics, such micro-strategies could be used proactively by students who are aware of them or by design instructors as action prompts for students. Finally, these micro-iterations may complement previous findings on more macro-iterations and thereby expand our understanding of how people engage in design thinking.
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