Using Engineering Cases in Technology Education

Article excerpt

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Introduction

There has been a great deal of discussion in the past few years about implementing engineering design in K-12 classrooms. Experts from K-12 education, universities, industry, and government officials attended the ASEE leadership workshop on K-12 Engineering Outreach in June of 2004 and came to a consensus on the need to implement engineering in K-12 schools (Douglas, Iversen, & Kalyandurg, 2004). Many leaders in the field of technology education believe that developing technological literacy in students can be best delivered by teaching engineering design (Wicklein, 2006, Lewis, 2005, Dearing & Daugherty, 2004). The use of the engineering design process is stressed throughout Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007), especially Standards 8 through 13.

While there may be strong support for teaching engineering concepts to K-12 students, how this knowledge is properly delivered to high school students is still a debatable topic. This article seeks to consider engineering case studies as a logical way to teach the engineering design process to students not commonly familiar with it. Arguments have been made against assigning students to full-scale engineering design problems when they are new to engineering. Often novice engineering students lack the analytical tools necessary for successful development of design solutions to full-sale engineering problems (Petroski, 1998, Dym, 1994). Introducing engineering design to K-12 students through the employment of design case studies is a logical solution.

Design Case Studies Defined

Although design case studies have been used in engineering schools since the late 1960s, the term may be new to those in the field of technology education. Design case studies have a variety of definitions, depending on the source. The general term design case study has several variations in title including engineering cases and case studies. Geza Kardos (1979) says that the terms "engineer case, cases, and case studies are used loosely and interchangeably," (p.1). In a separate article, Kardos (1979) defines engineering cases as "... a written account of an engineering activity as it was actually carried out" (p.1). H.O. Fuchs (1974) defines an engineering case as: "A case is a written account of an engineering job as it was actually done, of of an engineering problem as it was actually encountered" (p. 1). A common key to any engineering case is that the writing is based on factual information about a real engineering case or problem. One common practice is to change the names of the parties involved in the engineering case; however, the overall details must remain factual.

Variety of Formats

Some engineering cases tell the full story by providing the problem statement, the processes and procedures, and the actual applied solution; thus, these cases are known as case histories. "A case history is an account of an actual event or situation; it reviews the variables and circumstances, describes how a problem was solved, and examines consequences of decisions and the lessons learned" (Richards & Gorman, 2004, p. 2). Henry Petroski (1996) documents a number of historical design cases that highlight the design evolution of everyday items such as the standard GEM paperclip along with eight other design categories that ate presented in the book Invention by Design: How Engineers Get From Thought to Thing. He provides an historical perspective of the design and engineering of everyday artifacts. Petroski provides early patents of many household items such as the zipper and aluminum can. Petroski also presents case histories that feature the detailed analysis of engineering, such as the case of a common pencil. This particular case history illustrates how important it is to scrutinize and interpret the often seemingly trivial details of engineering analysis. …