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Development of an Innovative Multidisciplinary Course in Systems Analysis

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Course Development

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.531.1 - 26.531.16



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Paper Authors


Jacquelyn Kay Nagel James Madison University

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Dr. Jacquelyn K. Nagel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering at James Madison University. She has eight years of diversified engineering design experience, both in academia and industry, and has experienced engineering design in a range of contexts, including product design, bio-inspired design, electrical and control system design, manufacturing system design, and design for the factory floor. Dr. Nagel earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University and her M.S. and B.S. in manufacturing engineering and electrical engineering, respectively, from the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Dr. Nagel’s long-term goal is to drive engineering innovation by applying her multidisciplinary engineering expertise to instrumentation and manufacturing challenges.

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DEVELOPMENT OF AN INNOVATIVE MULTIDISCIPLINARY COURSE IN SYSTEMS ANALYSISThe engineering program at ________ University provides an emphasis on engineering design,systems thinking, and sustainability. Offering a single Bachelor of Science degree in engineeringwithout discipline-specific majors or concentrations, the goal is to train and produce engineeringversatilists, a term popularized by Friedman. All students within the program are required totake courses in engineering science (statics and dynamics, thermal fluids, mechanics andmaterials, circuits and instrumentation, and systems analysis), engineering design, engineeringmanagement, and sustainability. Systems Analysis is the culminating engineering science coursein the curriculum, and as such, it builds off of all prior engineering science coursework andintegrates engineering design course knowledge through both qualitative and quantitativeanalysis of complex systems.The Systems Analysis course is innovative in three aspects: 1) analysis applied to systems ofmultiple domains (i.e., electrical, mechanical, fluid, social) and multidisciplinary systems at theundergraduate level; 2) use of pedagogies of engagement; and 3) instruction in qualitative andquantitative analysis. The instructional goal is to not be discipline specific, but rather convey themultidisciplinarity of “real” systems problems. The ability for future engineers to work in cross-disciplinary environments is an essential competency as is the ability to think about the wholesystem at different levels of fidelity and in different time scales. To teach these skills to ourstudents, the theories of System Dynamics by J.W. Forrester, Dynamic Systems (also referred toas System Dynamics), and Optimization are woven together with concepts from engineeringdesign, engineering science, and sustainability taught in other courses in the curriculum.Engineering students are generally very good at applying quantitative analysis skills gained fromengineering science courses to single domain systems, but fail to understand how those skills fitwithin the bigger system analysis picture or apply to multidisciplinary systems, and where tobegin if the system is not predefined. To develop students’ non-quantitative analysis skills, andto hone their quantitative analysis skills for complex systems, a five stage analysis process isintroduced. The five stage process aims to not only provide structure for the course content, butalso, to model the complete analysis thought process with feedback loops scaffolding thestudents in their application and synthesis of the course material.A variety of pedagogical approaches, including deep, collaborative, and problem-based learning,which this paper will focus on, have been utilized to develop the course learning activities andmaterials. The aim is to teach skills, and not content. To ensure that skills are developed, in-class challenges are given for each of the analysis stages, deep learning assignments are given atmajor milestones in the course, and students complete a course project. Furthermore, manyassignments require justification of answers and competing design objectives to break the studentmentality of “what is the right answer” and lead them toward developing solutions that addresssystem requirements and balance tradeoffs. The reflection that comes along with justificationsolidifies concepts and enables mastery of the systems analysis process.

Nagel, J. K. (2015, June), Development of an Innovative Multidisciplinary Course in Systems Analysis Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23870

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