Towards the Unknown – Developing Students’ Abilities in Dealing with Indeterminate Design Tasks

Towards the Unknown – Developing Students’ Abilities in Dealing with Indeterminate Design Tasks

G. Tansley, M. Johnson (2006).  Towards the Unknown – Developing Students’ Abilities in Dealing with Indeterminate Design Tasks. 12.

Early educational experiences (at school and university) do not serve students particularly well when it comes to design tasks. By the second year of an engineering degree students know that there is a correct answer, pre-prepared by their teachers, to every problem they are asked to solve. This is very different from the world view of practicing engineers – especially in the area of mechanical engineering design. So how do we get students to change their world view from ‘there is a correct answer to all problems’ to ‘I will have to determine a suitable answer from a list of possibles or compromise solutions’?

In a recent curriculum redevelopment in Mechanical Engineering Design in our School a new philosophy was proposed and implemented which aims to develop students’ confidence in tackling open-ended design tasks. In the course of two semesters, projects are set which get progressively more ‘indeterminate’, starting with a heavily analytical and determinate machine assembly design, through to a very indeterminate systems design project. On the way, the entire design cycle is introduced but not followed from start (user requirements) to finish (prototype manufacture & testing) in any one project. Instead each project concentrates on developing an understanding of select sub-sets of knowledge and skills which when ‘bolted together’ yield an understanding of the whole picture.

The overall learning objectives are: confidence on the part of the students to tackle open-ended projects, whilst at the same time have an appreciation of the need for competent analytical design – and all wrapped up in an understanding of the role and responsibilities of the designer.

Early feedback from students is encouraging with a consensus that greater responsibility and more freedom in design work yield greater enjoyment and confidence. The project continues ….

2nd International CDIO Conference, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden, 13 – 14 June 2006


Authors (New): 
Geoff Tansley
Michael Johnson
The University of Nottingham, United Kingdom
mechanical engineering
open-ended design
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