Asee peer logo

Engineering Design And Communication: Jump Starting The Engineering Curriculum

Download Paper |


1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.242.1 - 3.242.10

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

P. Hirsch

author page

J.E. Colgate

author page

J. Anderson

author page

G. Olson

author page

D. Kelso

author page

B. Shwom

Download Paper |

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

Session 3253

Engineering Design and Communication: Jump-starting the Engineering Curriculum P. Hirsch, B. Shwom, J. Anderson, G. Olson, D. Kelso, J.E. Colgate Northwestern University

Abstract: A new course for Northwestern University’s engineering freshmen— Engineering Design and Communication or EDC—is noteworthy for its emphasis on the user-centered nature of design and its thorough integration of design and communication. Team-taught by faculty from two schools, EDC creates a new model for integrating core courses in engineering and liberal arts, combining content and pedagogy from two different fields, and building a new program and culture of design at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Introduction On any given Monday in Lecture Room 2 of the McCormick School of Engineering, 110 freshmen enrolled in Engineering Design and Communication (EDC) take part in an innovative lecture class that teaches design through a combination of presentation, simulation, and discussion. Two faculty members—one from engineering and one from the university’s Writing Program—typically begin and end the class with a PowerPoint presentation focusing on one aspect of the design process. Between these two segments, four other faculty, as members of the “NU Concepts Design Team,” are seated around a table in their simulated office, modeling a design-related activity. They might brainstorm solutions to a problem, make an objectives tree, or interview their “client” for the quarter, a local bike manufacturer who has asked them to help him design a recumbent bike for campus use. At some point in the hour, students are drawn into the discussion, becoming an integral part of the NU Concepts Design Team.

Later in the week, EDC students meet in groups of 16 with pairs of the design faculty—one communication specialist and one engineer—at the new Engineering Design Studio. Drawing on what they saw and heard on Monday, student teams work on design projects for clients of their own. During the first quarter of this two-quarter course, the projects all involve designing World Wide Web sites, which might range from an on-line lottery for campus housing, to Web-based support for the university's new human resources software package, to a Web-based alternative to Northwestern's current course evaluation system. During the second quarter, projects are more broadly defined and often address community or industry needs. Students have designed new playground equipment, a new storage system for a nearby elementary school, and a toy for disabled children.

For the past three years, we have been piloting EDC to increasingly large groups of freshmen, and we will complete our scale-up in 1998-99, when we teach the course to the entire freshman engineering class (approximately 320 students). This paper describes the new course and explains why we believe it is having a profound and far-reaching effect on Northwestern’s undergraduate engineering curriculum. In particular, we describe the structure of the course and then its unique features: how its integrated course content and collaborative design help us (a) break down the traditional undergraduate distinction between core engineering courses and liberal arts courses, (b) expand our knowledge of both design and communication, (c) refresh our

Hirsch, P., & Colgate, J., & Anderson, J., & Olson, G., & Kelso, D., & Shwom, B. (1998, June), Engineering Design And Communication: Jump Starting The Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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: © 1998 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