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Using Case Studies To Teach Introductory Design Concepts To First Year Engineers

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Design in Engineering Eduaction - Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1539.1 - 12.1539.13



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Paper Authors


Colin Campbell Corp.

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Colin Campbell, BMath is the Assistant Director of the Design Case Studies Group in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo. ( Other cases Colin has been involved with include the following industries: trucking, HVAC, steel-making, power generation, and bottling.

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Steve Lambert University of Waterloo

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Steve Lambert, PhD, PEng is the Director of the Design Case Studies Group in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo. ( His other research interests include: monitoring fatigue crack growth in welded joints with the direct current potential drop method; variable amplitude corrosion fatigue of welded structures; fracture of girth weld defects subject to high longitudinal strains; and stress corrosion cracking of pipeline steels.

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

Using Case Studies to Teach Introductory Design Concepts to First Year Engineers

1. Introduction

This paper presents the authors’ first experiences with delivering case studies on a large scale (1000+ students). The authors used multimedia (mostly video) in place of in-class delivery to gauge its effectiveness at such a large scale. The results in terms of the student responses to a questionnaire and their performance on the case studies are presented. These results will be used to improve the case studies. It is hoped that this paper will give others a glimpse into the process of continuous improvement of case studies. To that end temporary weaknesses in our products and processes are explored in detail.

A new group called the Design Case Studies Group ( has been created in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo to create case studies for use in courses throughout the curriculum. A good case study represents reality: a real situation (context), a real problem faced by an engineer, and uses real data. The following criteria are also used in evaluating a case study for use in a course:

1. Contains incomplete/extraneous data 2. Requires judgment and evaluation as well as analysis 3. Requires problem formulation and refinement 4. Involves an element of Design 5. There is no single correct solution 6. The company’s actual solution is available for comparison with student work

Cases must map well onto the curriculum, and are most effective if they can be used in more than one course. The group’s first case studies were presented in the Fall of 2006, and are the subject of this paper. The purpose of the case studies was to introduce the engineering design process to first year students in every Engineering department. This is consistent with other “Engineering in Context” approaches to first year engineering courses. [1, 2, 3, 4]

Two case studies were chosen: A Hydro Quebec case study which involves selecting from among alternative energy sources, and an Engineers Without Borders (Canada) case study on drinking water supply.

The first case study was used to introduce the engineering design process and its terminology, and the second case was used to give the students hands-on experience working through the steps of the engineering design process.

In the second case, the students ultimately had to enter and run an Excel simulation to determine the optimum size for a rainwater storage tank that would carry an average household through drought periods using the excess rainwater collected in wetter periods.

Campbell, C., & Lambert, S. (2007, June), Using Case Studies To Teach Introductory Design Concepts To First Year Engineers Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2843

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