Asee peer logo

A Study on Teaching Functional Modeling in a Sophomore Engineering Design Course

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Design Across the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.113.1 - 24.113.30



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Robert L. Nagel James Madison University

visit author page

Dr. Robert Nagel is an assistant professor in the department of engineering at James Madison University. Dr. Nagel joined the faculty after completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. He has a B.S. from Trine University and an M.S. from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, both in mechanical engineering. Dr. Nagel's research interests focus on engineering design and engineering design education, in particular the design conceptualization phase of the design process. He has performed research with the United States Army Chemical Corps, General Motors Research and Development Center, and the United States Air Force Academy, and he has received grants from the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Nagel’s current research activities are focused on product design and engineering education. In partnership with industry, he leads research translating customer perception of product failure back into the design process. His education research focuses on developing individual-focused methods, approaches, and interventions to teach sustainability as well as engaging diverse populations of students in STEM through systems thinking, engineering design, and engineering science.

visit author page

author page

Matt Robert Bohm University of Louisville

author page

Julie S. Linsey Georgia Institute of Technology

Download Paper |


A Study on Teaching Functional Modeling in an Engineering Design CourseFunction provides an abstraction of a complex system which allows for engineering problems tobe simplified into representations more readily solvable using fundamental principles. Inengineering design, functional models tend to be of a more generalized nature based on thedesired (and anticipated) operation of a system being designed. Consequently, engineeringdesign derived functional representations do not aim to replace domain specific models but toencapsulate those models at a higher and more integrated system level. While the value offunction in engineering design seems to be generally recognized by its inclusion in manyengineering design textbooks, it remains a difficult concept to teach to students of engineeringdesign. Often function is taught prior to system realization meaning that students must considerfunctionally of a non-existent system based solely on collected design requirements andspecifications. This research study attempts to simplify this process of functional model creationfor students. Our overarching working hypothesis is that when students begin conceptgeneration with a quality functional model rather than a weak functional model, they are morelikely to see the value of understanding desired functionality early in the design process.The first step toward achieving this research goal is to develop a scaffolding approach thatconsistently helps students to arrive at quality functional models based on design requirementsand specifications prior to conceptual design. In this paper, the results of a study using ascaffolding approach to teaching functional model generation to undergraduate students in theirfirst engineering design course is presented. Our hypothesis for this portion of the study is thatstudents who learn functional modeling following the scaffolding approach will create flow-based functional models with significantly fewer errors when evaluated against functionalmodeling conventions.The scaffolding approach walks the students through the creation of a black box model, theenumeration of potential function-flow pairs, the creation of function chains describing flowtransformations through the system, and the aggregation of function chains into a completefunctional model. Students were divided into three groups for this study: (1) a control group ofstudents who were provided just the course notes and the text book, (2) an intermediate group ofstudents who were provided the course notes, the text book, and an additional example functionalmodel in their homework packet, and (3) an experimental group of students who were providedthe course notes, the text book, the scaffolding approach, and an additional example. Theanalysis of the results is discussed, and the preliminary evidence shows promise towardsupporting our hypothesis that the scaffolding approach has a positive impact.

Nagel, R. L., & Bohm, M. R., & Linsey, J. S. (2014, June), A Study on Teaching Functional Modeling in a Sophomore Engineering Design Course Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20005

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015