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Design For Frontier Contexts: Classroom Assessment Of A New Design Methodology With Humanitarian Applications

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Design for Community and Environment

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.403.1 - 11.403.32



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Paper Authors


Matthew Green LeTourneau University

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MATTHEW G. GREEN is an assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at LeTourneau University, Longview. His objective is to practice and promote engineering as a serving profession, with special recognition of opportunities to improve the quality of life in developing countries. Topics include the design of affordable transportation, training engineers to design for marginalized populations, needs assessment in frontier design environments, assistive devices for persons with disabilities, and remote power generation. Contact:

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Julie Linsey University of Texas-Austin

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Carolyn Conner Seepersad

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Kathy Schmidt

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Kristin Wood University of Texas-Austin

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Design for Frontier Contexts: Classroom Assessment of a New Methodology with Humanitarian Applications

Abstract Engineering educators are recognizing the value of exposing students to need-based engineering problems and pedagogies1. A parallel interest is the globalization the scope of engineering education. These important topics are both addressed by a service-learning approach to globally-based humanitarian projects2-4. The importance of integrating both globalization and social needs into the engineering curriculum is acknowledged by the ABET criteria. Human need is also a clear priority of the engineering profession, as indicated in the NSPE creedi. However, the majority of engineering students are not familiar with the contexts in which vast needs exist, such as among the physically disabled or the 4 billion people living on less than $2 a day (PPP)5. These conditions represent formidable frontier design contexts, environments and situations outside the experience and expertise of most engineering students. Currently taught design methodologies advocate gathering customer needs, and many methods reference the importance of doing so within the context of use. However, sufficiently understanding design needs within the actual context of use of frontier contexts is notoriously problematic where data and contextual experience are not readily available. This is a challenge faced by organizations such as Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), Engineers without Borders (EWB), Engineering Ministries International (EMI), and other humanitarian and educational organizations engineering high human-impact solutions in these unfamiliar, frontier contexts. In response to this need, we have developed a basic but powerful Design for Frontier Contexts methodology6 to improve discovery and application of contextual information vital to successful frontier design. Grounded in empirical product-context studies7,8, the Design for Frontier Contexts method supports gathering, documenting, and applying contextual design information. By improving needs assessment, the method is expected to increase the successful application of engineering to high human-need contexts such as poor areas of developing countries and assistive technologies for persons with disabilities. The new needs assessment method can also improve the design of everyday consumer products to provide greater benefit to humanity with lower consumption of resources. The method enhances the use of context-specific resources and knowledge within the frontier context and provides a common template for collaborative communication among geographically diverse groups. Evaluation under controlled conditions suggests the new method is not only extremely effective, but also easy to use and well received by students. Classroom testing has shown very positive results, signifying broad applicability in education as well as field practice. We are currently integrating the method into the design curricula of our departments and conducting ongoing assessment for continued improvement. Here we present the essence of the method, results of preliminary testing, and examples of student projects which could benefit from the method. Templates, lecture slides, and examples in electronic format are freely available from the corresponding author.

Green, M., & Linsey, J., & Seepersad, C. C., & Schmidt, K., & Wood, K. (2006, June), Design For Frontier Contexts: Classroom Assessment Of A New Design Methodology With Humanitarian Applications Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--571

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