Building better mousetrap builders: courses to incrementally and systematically teach design

Kevin Otto*, Kristin L. Wood, Jozeph Bezdek, Michael G. Murphy, Daniel Jensen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


A variety of design-process and design-methods courses exist in engineering education. The primary objective of such courses is to teach engineering design fundamentals utilizing repeatable design techniques. By so doing, students obtain (1) tools they may employ during their education, (2) design experiences to understand the 'big picture' of engineering, and (3) proven methods to attack open-ended problems. While these skills are worthwhile, especially as design courses are moved earlier in curricula, many students report that design methods are typically taught at a high-level and in a compartmentalized fashion. Often, the students' courses do not include opportunities to obtain incremental concrete experiences with the methods. Nor do such courses allow for suitable observation and reflection as the methods are executed. In this paper, we describe a new approach for teaching design methods which addresses these issues. This approach incorporates hands-on experiences through the use of 'reverse-engineering' projects. As the fundamentals of design techniques are presented, students immediately apply the methods to actual, existing products. They are able to hold these products physically in their hands, dissect them, perform experiments on their components, and evolve them into new successful creations. Based on this reverse-engineering concept, we have developed and tested new courses at The University of Texas, MIT, and the United States Air Force Academy. In the body of this paper, we present the structure of these courses, an example of our teaching approach, and a brief evaluation of the results.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationASEE Annual Conference Proceedings
Editors Anon
ISBN (Electronic)2153-5868
Publication statusPublished - 1998
MoE publication typeA4 Article in a conference publication
EventASEE Annual Conference - Seattle, United States
Duration: 28 Jun 19981 Jul 1998


ConferenceASEE Annual Conference
CountryUnited States

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