Exploring Student Conceptions of Modeling and Modeling Uses in Engineering Design

Adam R. Carberry, Ann F. Mckenna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Background: Modeling is a pervasive feature of engineering that is rarely taught explicitly to engineering students. The implicit inclusion of modeling often results in conceptions held by students of models based on the everyday use of the term that neglects important predictive types of models. Purpose: We studied the effectiveness of an explicit modeling module designed to broaden student understandings of various approaches to and applications of modeling. Design/Method: A two-phase analysis of student conceptions was undertaken. Phase I analyzed the conceptions of an experimental group before and after they were taught an explicit modeling module. Phase II added a comparison group at a second institution. Results: A significant shift was observed for engineering students who were explicitly taught a modeling module. Student-held conceptions were predominantly descriptive-centric (e.g., physical models) throughout the investigation with an added focus on predictive (e.g., mathematical) modeling after completing the modeling module. These results were consistent for a comparison group. Conclusions: Explicit learning experiences about models and the modeling process need to be embedded into the engineering curriculum, specifically in the teaching of engineering design. Teaching modeling will improve student use and understanding of modeling as an important and pervasive engineering tool.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-91
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Adaptive expertise
  • Engineering design
  • Modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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