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Teaching Engineers To Handle Uncertainty

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Engineering Economy Education Research

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1078.1 - 7.1078.6



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Paper Authors

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Amber Lehrman

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Heather Nachtmann

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

Main Menu Session 2139

Teaching Engineers to Handle Uncertainty

Heather Nachtmann, Amber Lehrman University of Arkansas / The Pennsylvania State University


One of the greatest challenges in engineering education is preparing students to handle the realities of their post-graduate workplace including challenges such as dealing with uncertainty and estimating data. This paper discusses the importance of educating engineering students to handle uncertainty and providing them with the appropriate tools to do so. Ongoing research is being conducted to develop educational materials to educate engineering students about the effects of uncertainty and how to handle uncertain data. The research plan is presented along with a literature review in this area.


Several panel reports in the early 1990s claimed that undergraduate engineers lacked the ability to succeed in the real world (Bordogna, et al., 1993; ASEE, 1994; National Science Foundation, 1995; National Research Council, 1995). Around the same time, Condoor, et al. (1992) reported that students tended to primarily use subjective judgment in decision making as opposed to analytical techniques. The research project discussed in this paper addresses both of these concerns. The objectives of this research are twofold: 1) to assess the current state of engineering student abilities to estimate uncertain data parameters and 2) to educate undergraduate and graduate students in handling estimation uncertainty in the decision making process. These objectives will be met through pedagogical analysis, classroom instruction, and materials development. The primary researcher has experience in several prior engineering education research projects in the areas of design (Atman, et al., 1999), economy (Hartman, et al., 2001; Needy, et al., 2000b; Nachtmann, et al., 1999; Lavelle, et al., 1997), and management (Needy, et al., 2000a).

It has been recognized that one of the greatest challenges in education is to prepare students for the practical realities of their post graduation workplace (Shepard and Cosgriff, 1998). One specific challenge is to provide engineering students with the tools to handle uncertainty (Goyal, et al, 1997) and perform data estimation tasks that they will be faced with during their careers. Almost twenty-five years ago, it was recognized that the notion of risk and uncertainty inherent in real world business was not handled very effectively in education (Moore, 1997). In spite of this criticism, academia has failed to make tremendous strides in this area. Goyal, et al. (1997) believe that courses traditionally tasked with educating students in handling uncertainty do not provide students with sufficient tools for doing so. These courses, such as engineering economy, often present conditions that demand students accept input data as given so that solution methodology rather than data modeling is emphasized. Goyal, et al. (1997) argue that uncertainty and risk must be incorporated into engineering economy courses from the beginning in order to prepare students for real world situations that are fraught with both.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Lehrman, A., & Nachtmann, H. (2002, June), Teaching Engineers To Handle Uncertainty Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10065

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