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Reverse Engineering To Design Forward: An Introduction To Engineering Experiential Learning Module With Video Podcasts

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Design in Freshman and Sophomore Courses

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1052.1 - 13.1052.15



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Paper Authors


Steven Shooter Bucknell University

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Steven Shooter, Ph.D., P.E. is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Bucknell University where he has taught for thirteen years. He teaches Senior Design, Mechanical Design, Mechanics, Mechatronics, and Introduction to Engineering. His research is in the area of design methodology, information management in design and robotics. He is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania and consults considerably with industry. He is currently a PI on an NSF Cyber Infrastructure Teams project to examine techniques for exploiting the cyber infrastructure in support of engineering education through product dissection and reverse engineering.

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

Reverse Engineering to Design Forward: An Introduction to Engineering Experiential Learning Module with Video Podcasts


Reverse engineering is the practice of taking products apart (product dissection) to discover how it works and gain insight into why it was done that way. This is a common practice in industry and an important part of the product development cycle. Often the first customer of a company’s new product is a competitor who will completely tear apart, scrutinize, analyze and test in order to benchmark against their own offering. A Bucknell University Alumnus (class of 98) has done just that for his company that has catapulted their product to $40 million in annual sales in just two years. This paper will describe a three week module that is incorporated into an interdisciplinary Introduction to Engineering course. The module uses product dissection and reverse engineering as the guiding principle to establish improved design requirements and make suggestions for better designs. Nine fifty-minute lectures and three two-hour laboratories are used to show how a simple, every-day product like a stapler has many opportunities for improvement. The students dissect several staplers on the market and then use design methods to suggest a new stapler to satisfy a potential market. The module follows the case of Accentra, Inc. who has seen considerable market success through the launch of their PaperPro line of ergonomic staplers. The laboratory exercises are supplemented with instructional video podcasts that asynchronously guide the students through the product dissections.


Product dissection has been used in a variety of ways to successfully engage engineering students in their learning. Intellectual and physical activities such as dissection help to anchor knowledge and practice of engineering in the minds of students6,7 (Sheppard, 1992 a,b) and has been successfully used to help students identify relationships between engineering fundamentals and hardware design8,9 (Agogino, 1992, Brereton, 1998). Product dissection provides “hands-on” activities to couple engineering principles with significant visual feedback10,11,12 (Barr 2000, Lamancusa, 1996, Otto, 2001), and such “learning by doing” activities encourage the development of curiosity, proficiency and manual dexterity, three desirable traits of an engineer13 (Beaudin, 1995). Dissection also gives students early exposure to functional products and processes, and introducing such experiences early in the students’ academic careers has been shown to increase motivation and retention14 (Carlson 1997).

While many benefits to product dissection have been identified, there exist several challenges: (1) start-up and maintenance costs, (2) space for disassembly and storage, (3) preparation of educational materials and activities, and (4) access to more complex products such as copiers, refrigerators or automobiles. In response a partnership of nine universities with 32 faculty has assembled to establish a National Engineering Dissection Cyber-Collaboratory that builds on the CIBER-U project15 (Simpson, 2007) and is supported by the National Science Foundation’s CI- TEAM program. The intent is to establish a cyber-collaboratory that utilizes a shared set of cyberinfrastructure-based respositories, design tools and teaching materials rooted in engineering

Shooter, S. (2008, June), Reverse Engineering To Design Forward: An Introduction To Engineering Experiential Learning Module With Video Podcasts Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3716

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