Understanding the differences in functional models between traditional full-time graduate students and graduate students working in industry may allow for a deeper understanding of the impact of an engineer’s work on their ability to model a system in terms of its functions. To explore these differences, the researchers assigned two groups of students the task of creating a functional model of a can opener. One group of graduate students was traditional full-time graduate students while the other group was comprised of graduate students who are actively working in industry as engineers in the consumer appliance sector. This paper explores both the mechanics and plausibility behind the functional models created by the two groups of students and the impact of the industry standard parameter diagrams on the functional models of the graduate students’ working in industry.

After an initial analysis of the data, the researchers noticed an abnormal trend of the industry students to include more information beyond the common functional model elements which affected their models’ logical plausibility. Because this trend seemed to occur in higher quantities in the industry students’ functional models than the traditional graduate students’ models, the researchers decided to evaluate both groups’ functional models with a rubric developed for parameter diagrams — a model format common to the industry in which the industry students were employed. After re-analyzing the functional models of both groups using the parameter diagram rubric, it was observed that the industry students’ functional models did indeed include higher traces of parameter diagrams than the average graduate student. The researchers believe this may have been due to design fixation and incomplete conceptual change in practicing engineers. Implications of this finding are discussed herein.

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