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Can design tools sharpen memory?

A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh found that engineering students who used design tools such as computers, SMART Boards, and handheld devices were more successful at completing projects than those who did not.

Researchers found the design tools promote better working memory and flexible thinking.

"We found that when students hold discussions while using a SMART Board they communicate more clearly through directly referencing, writing, or drawing," said Christian Schunn, a professor of psychology and a research scientist in the university's Learning Research and Development Center. "It not only puts everyone on the same page, but it saves time that otherwise might have been spent on additional explanations or unproductive conflicts resulting from miscommunication."

To understand the cognitive processes of students in the throes of engineering design, Schunn and Jooyoung Jang, a doctoral student in psychology at the university, studied their working environments.

They collected data across eight semesters, looking at 43 interdisciplinary engineering teams consisting of advanced undergraduate and graduate students in biological, industrial, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineering. Each team was assigned to a different project and worked on it all semester.

Compared to the low-success groups, the high- and medium-success groups used shareable tools like the SMART Board and prototypes much more frequently, Schunn said.

Also, the later in the design process the tools made their appearance, the less successful the design, he said.

This section was written by Associate Editor Jean Thilmany.

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Title Annotation:COMPUTING
Author:Thilmany, Jean
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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