Assessing engineering design: A comparison of the effect of exams and design practica on first-year students' design self-efficacy

Hannah Nolte, Catherine Berdanier, Jessica Menold, Christopher McComb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In response to calls for engineering programs to better prepare students for future careers, many institutions offer courses with a design component to first-year engineering students. This work proposes that traditional exam-based assessments of design concepts are inadequate, and alternative forms of assessment are needed to assess student learning in design courses. This paper investigates the self-efficacy differences between a traditional exam and a two-part practicum as a mid-semester assessment for introductory engineering students enrolled in a first-year design course. Increased self-efficacy has been linked to various positive student outcomes and increased retention of underrepresented students. The practicum consisted of an in-class team design task and an out-of-class individual reflection, while the exam was a traditional, individual written exam. All students completed a pre-assessment survey and a post-assessment survey, both of which included measures of design self-efficacy. Analysis showed that the practicum increased the design self-efficacy of students more effectively than the exam. Students who identified as women had greater gains in design self-efficacy during the practicum as compared with men. Identifying as a minority subgroup student was also trending toward being a significant predictor of change in design self-efficacy for the practicum. Findings suggest that a mid-semester practicum is a successful assessment of design competencies that contributes to increased first-year engineering student self-efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number052301
JournalJournal of Mechanical Design
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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