Asee peer logo

Theory Of Technical Systems Unifying Theme For Design

Download Paper |


2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.663.1 - 5.663.6



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

W. Ernst Eder

Download Paper |

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

Session 1625


W. Ernst Eder Royal Military College of Canada


Courses in an engineering program are mostly taught in isolation. Designing, the unifying experience of engineering education, is treated a "an art", without guidance about procedure. A single "capstone" course attempts to unify the curriculum, which is almost impossible to achieve. A formal structure can help to unify the experience by showing the relationships among parts of engineering knowledge.

A suitable formal structure to provide a conceptual framework for engineering education is delivered by the Theory of Technical Systems, a section of Design Science. The Theory of Technical Systems shows how one area of science connects to and affects another, and provides a connective structure among the non-engineering subjects. Explicitly teaching the Theory of Technical Systems throughout the years of engineering study should give students a sufficient level of understanding of the reasons for studying each individual subject.

I. Introduction

Engineering design is generally reputed to be the unifying experience of engineering education. Yet in most educational institutions there seems to be a lack of structure to design (a noun -- the appearance and arrangement of a technical object) and designing (a verb -- the process of generating a new or revised technical object). The individual courses that make up an engineering program (mainly the appropriate engineering sciences and humanities) are usually taught in isolation from one another, with little or no cross-referencing. If they refer to design, it is usually as a noun, a description of a small selection of currently successfully operating systems that use the relevant phenomena, and only in relation to those individual phenomena.

The unifying theme should, according to the patterns of the past decades, be deliverable in the form of a single "capstone" experience of designing. This unification is almost impossible to achieve in this way. The heavy capstone tends to buckle the slender columns of the individual course streams from the preceding years of study. The cross-referencing to stabilize the columns does not exist.

Even if design experiences are (ideally) spread across all years of study, designing is difficult to teach and learn, unless a formal structure can show the relationships among engineering knowledge (both about objects and phenomena, and about design processes), the humanities, and societal knowledge. Such a formal structure can also indicate a useful sequence and set of models to underpin the iterative and recursive process of designing. A teacher’s experience of

Eder, W. E. (2000, June), Theory Of Technical Systems Unifying Theme For Design Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8771

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: © 2000 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