Comparing Self-Regulated Learning of Secondary School Students and College Freshmen during an Engineering Design Project

Oenardi Lawanto, Deborah Butler, Sylvie Cartier, Harry B. Santoso, Wade Goodridge, Kevin N. Lawanto, David Clark


The objective of this exploratory study was to describe patterns in self-regulated learning (SRL) for secondary school and college freshmen while engaged in a design activity. The main research question guiding the study was: In what ways did secondary and first year college students differ in addressing an engineering design project? Specific focus was given by exploring how these two groups of students compared in their (1) task interpretation in relation to reported strategy use during the design process; and (2) task interpretation in relation to reported strategy use in project management.

Students at one high school in the state of Colorado and first year undergraduate engineering students at one public university in the state of Utah participated in this study. Secondary students worked in an Architectural and Robotics Design classes (n=27). College freshmen worked in a mechanical engineering solid modeling course (n =70). A survey instrument and Web-based design journal entries were used to capture students SRL at the early, middle, and final stages of design tasks, including task interpretation (TI), reported use of planning (PS), cognitive (CS), monitoring/fix-up (MF) strategies, and perceptions of performance criteria (CR). Descriptive statistics, non-parametric statistics, and graphical views were used to analyze survey responses. Entries from students design journals were segmented and coded using an SRL model and interpreted to triangulate and complement survey data to achieve better insight about the employed strategies of these two groups. Students judgment of their performance was also evaluated.

The findings suggested that first-year college students scored higher than secondary students on task interpretation and reported use of planning, cognitive, and monitoring/fix-up strategies. They also scored higher on the criteria for making their design a success in most of the design phases. Findings were suggestive that secondary students scored higher on reported use of monitoring/fix up strategies as part of project management. Beyond group differences, our findings also revealed important SRL patterns within and across groups. Both groups have relatively good awareness of task demands, but less awareness on how to translate that task understanding into proper plans and plan execution across the design process and project management. Students journal entries revealed that college freshmen were more thorough in identifying and describing design strategies for their projects than were their secondary student counterparts. Differences in the quality of SRL were observed within, as well as between, groups. This article discusses potential implications for design instruction for both groups of students.


engineering design; grades 9-12; college freshman; metacognition; self-regulated learning

Full Text:


JSTEM. ISSN: 1557-5284