Asee peer logo

Work in Progress: An Approach to Engineering Literacy Emphasizing Components, Functions, and Systems

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

The Philosophy of Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1748.1 - 26.1748.14



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


John Krupczak National Science Foundation

visit author page

Professor of Engineering, Hope College, Holland, Michigan. Former Chair of the ASEE Technological Literacy Division. Former Chair of the ASEE Liberal Education Division. Senior Fellow CASEE, National Academy of Engineering, 2008-2010.

visit author page


Mani Mina Iowa State University

visit author page

Mani Mina is with the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. He has been working on better understanding of students' learning and issues of technological and engineering philosophy and literacy. In particular how such literacy and competency are reflected in curricular and student activities.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Work-­‐in-­‐progress:  An  approach  to  engineering  literacy  emphasizing  components,  functions,  and  systems.    Technological  and  engineering  literacy  courses  for  non-­‐engineers  face  a  problem  in  finding  organizing  principles  and  course  themes  that  are  characteristic  of  engineering  but  are  also  accessible  to  any  undergraduate  without  extensive  prerequisite  courses.    This  work  describes  a  framework  for  presenting  engineering  to  undergraduates  that  is  based  on  the  component  as  a  central  idea  characteristic  of  engineering.    Component  is  this  instance  means  a  physical  object  created  to  provide  a  specific  function  such  as  a  light  emitting  diode,  a  heat  exchanger,  a  wing,  or  an  internal  combustion  engine.  This  framework  depicts  engineering  as  creating  technological  systems  using  components  to  provide  a  specific  capabilities  or  functions.  Components  contributing  well-­‐defined  functions  are  combined  into  systems.  These  systems  provide  a  value  or  usefulness  that  exceeds  that  of  individual  components.  Components  are  incorporations  of  natural  processes  or  phenomena.  Models  or  mathematical  formulas  describing  component  behavior  are  developed  typically  based  on  the  underlying  natural  phenomena  employed  in  the  component.  These  mathematical  models  are  used  to  design  systems  by  predicting  component  and  system  behavior.  The  function  provided  by  a  particular  component  can  be  integrated  into  different  technological  systems  that  might  benefit  from  use  of  that  function.  Innovation  and  evolution  of  technological  systems  typically  occurs  by  substitution  of  an  existing  component  or  components  with  others  providing  functions  better  optimized  for  the  purposes  of  that  system.  This  component-­‐function-­‐systems  framework  can  be  used  as  a  theme  in  an  engineering  literacy  course.    This  approach  promotes  engineering  literacy  by  organizing  course  material  around  the  underlying  structure  common  to  technological  systems.      All  introductory  and  general  education  courses  benefit  from  having  strong  themes  that  serve  to  unite  course  material.  Technological  and  engineering  literacy  courses  that  address  diverse  technological  topics  without  a  convincing  and  fundamental  theme  risk  appearing  as  impermanent  and  merely  topical  in  nature.  A  challenge  for  engineering  literacy  courses  is  the  need  to  include  the  role  of  science  without  leading  to  the  conclusion  that  engineering  is  merely  applied  science.    The  approach  based  on  components  as  the  core  building  blocks  of  engineered  systems  is  able  to  include  scientific  principles  as  embedded  in  the  processes  taking  place  in  components,  while  emphasizing  that  engineering  is  the  creative  use  of  these  capabilities  to  solve  problems.    The  engineering  design  process  is  also  an  important  defining  aspect  of  engineering  and  merits  inclusion  in  engineering  and  technological  literacy  classes.    A  challenge  in  promoting  engineering  literacy  based  on  engineering  design  is  design  is  a  process  or  a  means  by  which  technology  is  developed  not  a  product  in  itself.    Students  in  engineering  and  technological  literacy  courses  typically  are  interested  in  understanding  the  end  result,  the  hardware  and  struggle  with  a  design-­‐centric  approach.  The  design  process  must  involve  actual  physical  material  from  which  designs  can  be  produced.  The  component-­‐function-­‐system  approach  helps  students  to  carry  out  the  design  process  by  emphasizing  that  components  are  the  elements  from  which  engineering  designs  are  created.    Focus  on  components  such  as  motors,  beam,  switches,  and  pumps  as  building  blocks  of  engineering  designs  helps  to  make  the  design  process  less  abstract  and  more  realizable.  This  components-­‐functions-­‐systems  perspective  has  been  used  in  engineering  and  technological  literacy  courses  at  a  large  state  university  and  a  small  private  college.  Results  from  this  pilot  testing  with  these  student  groups  will  be  presented.  In  general  undergraduates  react  favorably  and  are  able  to  understand  the  fundamentals  of  this  approach  to  understanding  diverse  technologies  as  built  around  components  serving  as  functional  elements  that  are  combined  into  more  complex  and  capable  systems.    

Krupczak, J., & Mina, M. (2015, June), Work in Progress: An Approach to Engineering Literacy Emphasizing Components, Functions, and Systems Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25084

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: © 2015 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