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Developing Multi Discipline Design Skills In Undergraduates

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.415.1 - 9.415.10

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Paper Authors

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Bullen Frank

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

Developing multi-discipline design skills in undergraduates

Frank Bullen, Jane Sargison, John McCulloch School of Engineering, University of Tasmania, Australia


The importance of incorporating design skills in undergraduate engineering programs is widely recognized. Demonstrating that students have been imbued with those skills is however, often poorly done with design not being well developed throughout a degree program. The paper outlines the processes adopted at the University of Tasmania to develop design skills and how the attainment of those skills is evaluated. A case study involving the development and refinement of a new multi-disciplinary design unit Experimental Design and Analysis is provided as an example of how to achieve good design learning outcomes.


Much discussion continues to occur around integrating design, and the teaching of design, into engineering programs. Dodd and Stonyer1 describe engineering design as “providing the integration of engineering theoretical knowledge, skills and practical elements of an engineering degree”, while also recognizing that attributes such as teamwork and communication are desirable of incorporation. While the authors accept such a premise as valid for the final years of an engineering program, they feel that it does not apply to the first year of a program when students mostly lack those elements. In fact it could be argued that a lack of engineering theoretical knowledge might benefit rather than hinder as the potential engineers will not be burdened or blinkered by preconceptions based on engineering science. Also ideally design should cross discipline boundaries for any potential engineer to truly appreciate how design occurs in the real world.

It is interesting to note that Green2 hypothesized that most Australian engineering courses focus too much on the acquisition of design knowledge (rules) and too little on creativity and problem formulation. He concluded that engineers compare unfavorably with industrial designers who place emphasis on creativity and problem formulation via the use of design studios. It seems that engineers are increasingly constrained in their creativity during their studies while industrial designers are free to explore.

Developing design skills in professional engineering programs allows students to learn via active engagement and group project work. Green and Bonollo3 describe design methodology as a process that includes the “study, principles, practices and procedures of design”, with a focus on the understanding of the design process. It could be argued that what is truly being taught is design methods, design processes and design methodology. Such content is not appropriate for a first year design unit where potential engineers should be introduced to generic design that spans disciplines and encourages creativity. The authors

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Frank, B. (2004, June), Developing Multi Discipline Design Skills In Undergraduates Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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