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The pedagogical value of Disassemble/Analyze/Assemble (DAA) activities: Assessing the potential for motivation and transfer

, Purdue University, United States

Purdue University . Awarded


Undergraduate engineering institutions are currently seeking to improve recruiting practices and to retain engineering majors particularly by addressing what many studies document as a major challenge of poor instruction. There is an undisputed need for instructional practices that motivate students in addition to facilitating the transfer of learning beyond the classroom. Reverse engineering and product dissection, more broadly termed Disassemble/Analyze/Assemble (DAA) activities, have shown potential to address these concerns, based on the reviews of students and professors alike. DAA activities involve the systematic deconstruction of an artifact, the subsequent analysis and possible reconstruction of its components for the purpose of understanding the embodied fundamental concepts, design principles and developmental processes. These activities have been part of regular industry practice for some time; however, the systematic analysis of their benefits for learning and instruction is a relatively recent phenomenon. A number of studies have provided highly descriptive accounts of curricula and possible outcomes of DAA activities; but, relatively few have compared participants doing DAA activities to a control group doing more traditional activities. In this respect, two quasi-experiments were conducted as part of a first-year engineering laboratory, and it was hypothesized that students who engaged in the DAA activity would be more motivated and would demonstrate higher frequencies of transfer than the control. A DAA activity that required students to disassemble a single-use camera and analyze its components to discover how it works was compared to a step-by-step laboratory activity in the first experiment and a lecture method of instruction in the second experiment. In both experiments, over forty percent of the students that engaged in the DAA activity demonstrated the ability to transfer the knowledge gained about the functions of the camera's components and their interconnectedness and describe an approach for modifying the camera that involved the adaptation of a current mechanism to add new functionality. This exhibition of transfer was significantly greater than the frequency of transfer yielded by the comparative traditional activities. In addition, the post laboratory surveys indicated that the DAA activities elicited significantly higher levels of motivation than the step-by-step laboratory and the direct instructional method.


Dalrymple, O.O. The pedagogical value of Disassemble/Analyze/Assemble (DAA) activities: Assessing the potential for motivation and transfer. Ph.D. thesis, Purdue University. Retrieved July 31, 2021 from .

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