Embedding context in teaching engineering design

Xaver Neumeyer, Wei Chen, Ann F. McKenna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Understanding the global, societal, environmental and economic (GSEE) context of a product, process or system is critical to an engineer's ability to design and innovate. The already packed curricula in engineering programs provide few occasions to offer meaningful experiences to address this issue, and most departments delegate this requirement to an early cornerstone or later capstone design experience as a result, making these courses an ineffective "catch all". To address this challenge, we utilize the paradigm of product archaeology, to understand the decisions that led to a product's development. Product archaeology is defined as the process of reconstructing the lifecycle of a product - the customer requirements, design specifications, and manufacturing processes used to create it. By considering products, processes and systems as designed artifacts with a history rooted in their development, we embed GSEE context as a central component in developing design solutions. In the current work, students focus primarily on the useful life of products and their design solutions, rather than on product end-of-life issues. Specifically, in our work we have implemented several approaches to integrate contextual thinking related to GSEE dimensions into a senior level engineering design course. Following Kolb's model of experiential learning and an instructional framework adapted for product archaeology (inclusive of evaluate-explain - prepare - excavate activities) we have restructured the course to embed specific and targeted reflection, dissection, and analysis activities so that student teams effectively address the GSEE factors in their design solutions. This paper provides the theoretical framework of our instructional approach, describes the specific didactic activities we implemented, and summarizes results from our qualitative analysis. Overall, our results suggest that the use of product dissectionand GSEE activities is an effective way to equip students with new tools to understand contextual, technical, and functional properties of their design projects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAdvances in Engineering Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013


  • Design
  • Global and societal
  • Product architecture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering(all)


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