Purdue University Graduate School
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A Case Study of High-School Student Self-Regulation Responses to Design Failure

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posted on 2019-01-16, 21:04 authored by Andrew M. JacksonAndrew M. Jackson
Although design is part of everyday experience, increased proficiency in managing and reflecting while designing signify greater proficiency as a designer. This capacity for regulation in design is crucial for learning, including from failure experiences, while designing. Failure and iteration are integral parts of design, with potential cognitive and psychological ramifications. On the one hand, failure can be framed as a learning experience that interrupts thinking and evokes reflection. On the other hand, it can be detrimental for confidence and motivation or derail the design process. Based on similarities between design and self-regulation, I articulate a framework whereby responses to failure might be regulated by beginning designers. Then, this case study applies the framework to describe the experiences and perspectives of beginning designers as they work and fail, illuminating issues of failure in design and the extent of their self-regulation.

The in situ design processes of four teams was examined to describe self-regulation strategies among student designers. Analysis was conducted with two methods: linkography and typological thematic analysis. Linkography, based on think-aloud data, provided a visual representation of the design process and tools to identify reflection, planning, and critical moments in the design process. Typological analysis, based on think-aloud data, follow-up interviews, and design journals, was used to investigate specific strategies of self-regulation. The complementary methods contribute to understanding beginning designers’ self-regulation from multiple perspectives.

Results portray varied trajectories in design, ranging from repeated failure and determination to fleeting success and satisfaction. Class structures emerge in designers’ patterns of planning and reflection. These highlight the contextualized and evolutionary nature of design and self-regulation. Furthermore, linkographic evidence showed a beginning sense-making process, followed by oscillating phases of forward and backward thinking, to various degrees. Moments of testing, both successes and failure, were critically connected in the design process.

Thematic analysis identified 10 themes, aligning with the self-regulatory phases of forethought, performance, and reflection. The themes highlight how regulation in forethought is used to shape performance based on past iterations; meanwhile, the identification and attribution of failures relays information on how, and whether to iterate. Collectively, thematic findings reinforce the cyclical nature of design and self-regulation.

Design and self-regulation are compatible ways of thinking; for designers, the juxtaposition of these concepts may be useful to inform patterns of navigating the problem-solving process. For educators, the imposition of classroom structures in design and self-regulatory thinking draws attention to instructional design and assessment for supporting student thinking. And for researchers of design or self-regulation, these methods can give confidence for further exploration.


Soft Robotics to Broaden the STEM Pipeline

Directorate for Education & Human Resources

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Ross Fellowship from Purdue University


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Technology

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Nathan J. Mentzer

Additional Committee Member 2

Allison F. Godwin

Additional Committee Member 3

Greg J. Strimel

Additional Committee Member 4

Scott R. Bartholomew