We are beginning to explore the largely uncharted landscape of what content and skills engineering students must understand deeply, how to teach these skills, and how to measure the extent of understanding.

The goal of this research group at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville is to increase students' understanding of uncertainty in engineering design during the undergraduate curriculum, in order for graduates to be better prepared for more types of uncertainties encountered in the workplace.

Description of Research

Prior research shows that there is a definite three-dimensional relationship of increasing awareness and ability to manage uncertainty in design decisions:

  • A dimension of quality and quantity of uncertainty, because there are several types of uncertainty, which may or may not be reducible
  • A dimension of how much skill an engineer has in engaging a team
  • A third dimension of an engineer's personal reaction to uncertainty, from a "brittle" response, to a "resilient" response, where the presence of uncertainty will not weigh down the engineer

Prior research shows that there is a definite path for an engineer's increasing understanding of uncertainty in engineering design, and that, typically, undergraduate students are only at the beginning. Surely, with careful and thorough research, the undergraduate curriculum can be revised to accelerate students' awareness and management of uncertainty. What remains unanswered are the research questions:

  • What are effective learning interventions that increase an engineering student's ability to manage uncertainty in making design decisions
  • How can an engineering student's management of uncertainty in design decisions be measured?

Our project seeks to isolate and magnify the factors of learning experiences that directly increase a student's awareness and management of uncertainty. Simply being assigned a team, or being tasked to design a project, does not guarantee an enhanced awareness and management of uncertainty. There must be focus and practice on this skill.

Research efforts here will provide meaningful data to inform refinement or retirement of learning interventions, both for interventions currently deployed and for interventions still in development. This is a paramount assessment in order to keep undergraduate credit hours lean and efficient.

Academic Areas of Focus

Engineering
Our project focuses on the process of managing uncertainty in engineering.

Education
The scholarship of teaching and learning is important to this investigation.

Qualitative Research
The concepts of phenomenography and constructivism inform this project.

Application and Career Opportunities

Inspire the next generation of innovators in engineering, and apply your understanding of uncertainty in engineering design in the workplace.

Join our Research Group

Undergraduate student researchers working on this project will gain several different proficiencies. Some tasks include literature review and qualitative data analysis. Undergraduate student researchers need to improve their information literacy skills, which will happen as they methodically summarize results of keyword searches. Student researchers may also improve their metacognition and reflection-in-action, because they are thinking about their thinking and learning as they are in the midst of it. 

Main tasks are design and execution of experiments, in this case, quasi-experiment with people. Undergraduate student researchers may not have had much practice in designing an experiment, so an original research project directly provides that opportunity. Lastly, depending on the scope and nature of the as-yet-undefined learning intervention, an undergraduate researcher may experience the process of obtaining buy-in from a larger set of stakeholders, an entrepreneurial skill not typically emphasized in traditional engineering disciplines.

Students in engineering, social science, or education are welcome to contact Dr. Cummings for opportunities to join the research team. 

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