Design processes are an important component of engineering education. They teach early stage engineering undergraduates about the temporal and organizational nature of the design process and give them the first exposure to the basics of engineering design and its different stages. Currently, in many places, including the authors’ institution, engineering design processes are taught with a focus on teaching discipline specific design stages and their components. However, recent studies in the industry suggest that industrial engineering design processes across different discipline have a core of common transdisciplinary stages. These can be summarized as planning; concept development; system-level design; detail design; implementation and testing; and final production. Transdisciplinary engineering design enables a better understanding of the design process by transcending the barriers of discipline specific terminology. However, while efforts have been made to identify the commonalities amongst engineering disciplines in the industry, very little data is available for engineering education.
The current paper presents data from an empirical study that aims to identify commonalities between engineering design process education across engineering departments at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering. In this paper, we validate the hypothesis that, despite the different terminologies, a conceptual similarity exists between the design stages of various disciplines, as they are taught. The study consists of 34 structured one-on-one interviews with engineering design professors from 4 engineering departments namely mechanical, chemical, civil, electrical and computer science. The data for this study was collected from 2 sections of the interview. The first section comprised open-ended questions designed to collect descriptions of the discipline-specific engineering design processes and their design stages. The second section was based on a cognitive game task designed to obtain a self-directed mapping of the discipline specific design stages on the proposed design stages. The stages thus obtained were unique yet generic enough to describe the design process at an abstract level. The results compare the design stages of pre- and post-mapped discipline-specific engineering design processes and highlight the existence of common concepts despite differing terminologies. It is also shown that given an opportunity, the participants are successfully able to map their process to the proposed reference design process.
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