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A Combined Online Learning / In-Class Activity Approach to Teach Systems Thinking and Systems Engineering Skills to Freshman Engineering Students

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Systems Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

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Paper Authors


Mark David Bedillion Carnegie Mellon University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Bedillion received the BS degree in 1998, the MS degree in 2001, and the PhD degree in 2005, all from the mechanical engineering department of Carnegie Mellon University. After a seven year career in the hard disk drive industry, Dr. Bedillion was on the faculty of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for over 5 years before joining Carnegie Mellon as a Teaching Faculty in 2016. Dr. Bedillion's research interests include distributed manipulation, control applications in data storage, control applications in manufacturing, and STEM education.

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Karim Heinz Muci-Kuchler South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

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Dr. Karim Muci-Küchler is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Experimental and Computational Mechanics Laboratory at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT). Before joining SDSMT, he was an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy. He received his Ph.D. in Engineering Mechanics from Iowa State University in 1992. His main interest areas include Computational Mechanics, Solid Mechanics, and Product Design and Development. He has taught several different courses at the undergraduate and graduate level, has over 50 publications, is co-author of one book, and has done consulting for industry in Mexico and the US. He can be reached at

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Cassandra M. Birrenkott South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cassandra (Degen) Birrenkott received her B.S. degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 2007. She received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering in 2012 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying mechanochemical reactions of a spiropyran mechanophore in polymeric materials under shear loading. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering department at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where her research interests include novel manufacturing and characterization techniques of polymer and composite structures and the incorporation of multifunctionality by inducing desired responses to mechanical loading.

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Marsha Lovett Carnegie Mellon University

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Dr. Marsha Lovett is Associate Vice Provost of Teaching Innovation, Director of the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, and Teaching Professor of Psychology -- all at Carnegie Mellon University. She applies theoretical and empirical principles from learning science research to improve teaching and learning. She has published more than fifty articles in this area, co-authored the book How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, and developed several innovative, educational technologies, including StatTutor and the Learning Dashboard.

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Laura Ochs Pottmeyer Carnegie Mellon University

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Engineering graduates from traditional disciplines ( e.g. mechanical engineering) have felt increasing pressure to develop holistic, systems thinking mindsets to tackle today's complex engineering challenges. Some engineering programs have reacted by introducing the fundamentals of systems thinking and systems engineering throughout design courses. However, a stronger approach might be to thread systems thinking / systems engineering skills vertically throughout the curriculum to build students' knowledge gradually. This paper considers infusing such an introduction into a freshman level introduction to mechanical engineering course.

The intervention studied in this paper consists of two parts: an online learning module developed using the Online Learning Initiative (OLI) platform that introduces both the engineering design process and the fundamentals of systems thinking, and an in-class design exercise in which student groups brainstormed the design of a quadcopter delivery service. Traditionally, the in-class portion was used to introduce the material now contained in the OLI. The goal was to solidify students' skills by allowing students to directly practice their systems thinking / systems engineering knowledge. The effectiveness of the OLI was determined through the use of the Systems Thinking Skills Survey, which was administered to some students before and some after the OLI. The overall approach was effective in better engaging students in a remote learning environment.

Bedillion, M. D., & Muci-Kuchler, K. H., & Birrenkott, C. M., & Lovett, M., & Pottmeyer, L. O. (2021, July), A Combined Online Learning / In-Class Activity Approach to Teach Systems Thinking and Systems Engineering Skills to Freshman Engineering Students Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36562

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