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Board 18: The Impact of Functional Modeling in an Engineering Design Curriculum

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Matt R. Bohm Florida Polytechnic University Orcid 16x16

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Matt Bohm is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Florida Polytechnic University (Florida Poly). He joined the University in 2016 after spending 6-years as an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Louisville (UofL). Bohm’s research examines the intersection of 3 distinct areas, engineering design, engineering education, and big data. Currently, Bohm has an active NSF grant under the Division of Undergraduate Education to examine the effects of systems modeling paradigms with respect to design outcomes and systems thinking and understanding. While at UofL, Bohm was primarily responsible for overseeing the Mechanical Engineering Department’s capstone design program. Prior to his position at UofL, Bohm was a visiting researcher at Oregon State University (OSU) after completing his PhD at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) in 2009. While at S&T, Bohm was also a Lecturer for the Department of Interdisciplinary Engineering and was responsible for coordinating and teaching design and mechanics related courses.

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Hannah Ingram Florida Polytechnic University


Julie S. Linsey Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Julie S. Linsey is an Associate Professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technological. Dr. Linsey received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering at The University of Texas. Her research area is design cognition including systematic methods and tools for innovative design with a particular focus on concept generation and design-by-analogy. Her research seeks to understand designers’ cognitive processes with the goal of creating better tools and approaches to enhance engineering design. She has authored over 100 technical publications including twenty-three journal papers, five book chapters, and she holds two patents.

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Robert L. Nagel James Madison University

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Dr. Robert Nagel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering at James Madison University. Dr. Nagel joined the James Madison University after completing his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. He has a B.S. from Trine University and a M.S. from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, both in mechanical engineering. Since joining James Madison University, Nagel has helped to develop and teach the six course engineering design sequence which represents the spine of the curriculum for the Department of Engineering. The research and teaching interests of Dr. Nagel tend to revolve around engineering design and engineering design education, and in particular, the design conceptualization phase of the design process. He has performed research with the US Army Chemical Corps, General Motors Research and Development Center, and the US Air Force Academy, and he has received grants from the NSF, the EPA, and General Motors Corporation.

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NSF funded “Collaborative Research: Evaluating the Impact of Teaching Function in an Engineering Design Curriculum” in the Fall of 2015. Since then, the PIs have been investigating the relationships between the level of student knowledge of functional modeling with (1) the ability to explore the solution space during design, (2) the ability to generate quality designs, and (3) the ability to represent and understand engineered systems. The primary goal of their ongoing research is to have quantitative data that explains the actual impact functional modeling has on engineering design. The importance of the research lies in the lack of actual, physical data to demonstrate the positive correlation between functional modeling and engineering design in the educational sphere prior to their studies. Furthermore, the PIs overarching hypothesis is that formal training in functional modeling practice increases students’ overall design comprehension.

Initial work done by the PIs showed that students who were only taught functional modeling through lecture were outperformed by students who were given additional help outside of lecture using a step-by-step example and rules for model generation. To further investigate the impact of different functional model teaching tools on students’ understanding, the PIs studied a control group who only learned the basic meaning of function and a treatment group who received functional modeling instruction. Student assessment was comprised of a FunSkill quiz which tested the students’ ability to identify function, describe functionality, understand functional translation of design objectives, and create a functional model. The follow-on study showed that the treatment group successfully outperformed the control group in differentiating different design’s function, enumerating functions, and generating higher quality functional models.

Further studies uncovered that students appear to be able to retain their ability to generate adequate functional models even after seven weeks of not practicing functional modeling generation. In a continuation of the exploration of quantifying functional modeling’s impact on the design process, it was found that students who learned about functional modeling and functional enumeration appeared to be better at identifying low-level functions that are critical for systems thinking compared to the students who were taught only functional enumeration.

Stemming from the initial function-based investigations, the PIs have become interested in students’ abilities to generate mental models. Most recently, the team developed a tool to assess mental models and examine the impact of functional modeling on that mental model. Initial studies have asked students to break down a product into its components. They were then taught functionality and were asked to repeat the first task. Initial results show that students appeared to be unable to distinguish functional similarities of two products that were unfamiliar to them. However, the same students were able to distinguish functional similarities of products they were familiar with prior to the study.

Bohm, M. R., & Ingram, H., & Linsey, J. S., & Nagel, R. L. (2019, June), Board 18: The Impact of Functional Modeling in an Engineering Design Curriculum Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32287

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