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Teaching Skills for Conceptual Design - A New Approach

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication5th International Symposium for Engineering Education
Place of PublicationUniversity of Manchester, UK
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event5th International Symposium for Engineering Education (ISEE) 2014 - The University of Manchester, September 2014, UK, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sep 201412 Sep 2014


Conference5th International Symposium for Engineering Education (ISEE) 2014
CountryUnited Kingdom
City Manchester


Engineering is to a large degree about problem solving and communicating solutions to problems effectively. Despite this, most engineering undergraduate programmes focus largely on technical matters with little time devoted to teaching problem solving skills. This paper describes developing, delivering and assessing a novel course designed to equip students to solve open-ended, ill-defined problems. These kinds of problem are not solvable by computer or easily “outsourced” around the world. Hence graduates with skills at solving them will be well-placed to compete in future employment.

Through problem-based and self-led learning the course enabled students to develop expertise at problem definition, option evaluation, engineering communication and conceptual design. To encourage free exchange of ideas and rapid development of design solutions, informal sketching and approximate calculations were emphasised over formal drawings and precise calculations. Use of Excel as means to communicate, as much as to calculate, was highlighted.

The authors recognised that learning through failure is intrinsic to developing problem solving skill so assessment was heavily loaded towards rewarding engagement with the material rather than “correct” solutions. Moreover, early cycles though the design process attracted few marks so that students could build knowledge and ability without fear of being marked down due to poor initial attempts.

Staff found that while many students were initially flummoxed by the unfamiliar, non-prescriptive nature of the course, over time the value and purpose were recognised. End of course student feedback was exceptionally positive with many comments recognising the value of the content and style of the course.


5th International Symposium for Engineering Education (ISEE) 2014


Manchester, United Kingdom

Event: Conference

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