Engineering Design and Practice Sequence

The new, four-year Engineering Design and Practice Sequence (EDPS) at Queen's is core for all students in all engineering programs. It focuses on developing competence in design process methods and tools, problem analysis, creativity, economics and entrepreneurship, engineering communications, professionalism and ethics. EDPS is following a staged roll-out, with the revised introductory course given to first year students starting in 2010/2011 and the second year design and communications course delivered for the first time in 2011/2012.

The development of the EDPS began three years ago, directed by a Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) consisting of representatives from all engineering programs in the faculty of engineering, a student society representative, the Associate Dean, the Director of Program Development, the NSERC Chair in Engineering Design, and members with economics, library, and professionalism expertise.

The first two years of the EDPS are delivered by faculty-wide project-based courses APSC-100 and APSC-200/293. The third and fourth years of the sequence are delivered by departments, and tailored to the disciplinary design and practice approaches.

Year Courses Focus
Year 4 Disciplinary Final capstone project integrating technical and professional skills
Year 3 Disciplinary Disciplinary project using design tools and processes
APSC-221 Engineering economics and project management
Year 2 APSC-200/293 Design, innovation, communications, and professional practice
Year 1 APSC-100 Introduction to problem solving, investigation, design, and professional practice

More detail about this sequence of courses is described in a recent paper

B. Frank, D. Strong, R. Sellens, L. Clapham, Progress With The Professional Spine: A Four-Year Engineering Design And Practice Sequence, Proceedings of the 8th International CDIO Conference, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia, July 1-4, 2012

Year 1: APSC-100

The first year of the experience is built on a design and professional skills course that was originally developed as part of the faculty's push for integrated learning in the late 1990s (McCowan 2002; Clapham 2001; Roger 2001). The course was developed as a team-based, project-based course to promote a sense of curiosity about engineering, and promote creative thought. The course is divided into three modules: Module 1. Problem analysis and modeling (new in 2010/2011); Module 2. Experimentation and measurement; Module 3: Engineering design. Each of these is one semester long and equivalent in weight to a standard one-semester engineering course.

The early development of this course was described in papers including:

  • McCowan, J., and Knapper, C., An Integrated and Comprehensive Approach to Engineering Curricula, Part One: Objectives and General Approach, Int. J. Eng. Ed, Vol. 18, No. 6, p. 633, 2002.
  • Clapham, L. and Topper, A., From Experiments to Experimentation: A New Philosophy for First Year Laboratories, Twelfth Canadian Conference on Engineering Education, University of Victoria, (2001).
  • D. Roger and D. Turcke, Successfully managing a six-hundred-student team-based design activity, Twelfth Canadian Conference on Engineering Education, University of Victoria, (2001).

More detail about this course is described on the APSC-100 webpage, and in papers listed on Brian Frank's page.

Year 2: APSC-200/293

The second year is implemented as a faculty-wide, one semester design course APSC200 integrated with a communications course APSC293. The splitting of the EDPS II into APSC200 and APSC293 was made primarily for administrative reasons, as it allows a way of tracking students separately on their competencies for both communications and design. The co-ordinator is the same for both of these courses, offered for the first time in 2011/2012.

APSC-200/293 is a project-based course designed to be delivered in two parts over a 12-week semester. Common instruction is provided to all students in the first 6 weeks, and includes problem scoping, creativity, idea generation, engineering ethics, and decision making incorporating technical, economic, societal, and environmental factors, safety, engineering codes and regulations. Following an introductory project in the first week (P0), instruction in the next 5 weeks is paralleled by a hands-on, simple design/build project (P1). The final 6 weeks of the course centers around a more advanced design project delivered by each discipline (P2). The communication course includes a small number of integrated lectures, online modules, and working tutorials practicing communication in the engineering context of deliverables in the design course.

A visual description of the course is shown below.


Week 1 - P0 project: In this introductory week students work in groups to complete a simple design-and-build task using recycled/reused materials. The intent is to encourage creativity and team-building given minimal structure or design instruction, and also to stimulate interest in the design process and encourage students to enjoy and reflect on the experience. The task was to design a device for propelling a package towards a target. The P0 exercise is structured in two Phases, one in each workshop session:

  • Phase 1: Conceive and Design: Following an introductory lecture, student groups develop an idea for subsequent testing. At the end of the workshop they submit design description, materials list, and concept sketches.
  • Phase 2: Implement and Operate: Students gather recycled/reused materials on their own time, then build and test their device in the first hour of the workshop. In the second hour all devices are tested.

Weeks 2-6 - P1 project and supporting instruction/activities: Instruction in design process with integrated professional practice and communication skills is applied in the elements of a project-based Humanitarian Engineering design experience. The project is intended to be virtual, although students are not discouraged from building all or part of a prototype. After reflection on their P0 project, the same student groups select a P1 project topic from among three options, and choose a country/region of implementation for context, based on researching needs. Fall term choices were:

  • Energy Generation and Storage
  • Water supply and Purification
  • Sustainable energy cooker

Modular lectures and active workshop exercises are delivered to coincide with the stages of the design project. APSC 200 topics include design process, idea generation and creativity, project management, integrating safety, decision making tools (pros/cons table, weighted evaluation matrix), value judgment (triple bottom line), cost estimation, and design assessment and iteration. Project deliverables are a design proposal, interim and final reports, and an oral presentation. APSC 293 communication workshops begin with a general lecture outlining the writing process, then throughout the project the topics support the various reporting aspects, including business communications and information research in a just-in-time fashion.

The second half (P2) retains the same timetabling, with departmental instructors working with disciplinary groups of students towards learning objectives common across the faculty. Departmental instructors determined if and how the lecture and workshop slots would be used based on the needs of their particular project assignment. Typically one lecture and one workshop per week retained scheduled activities and the second workshop was offered as unstructured project time, although there was substantial variation. Curricula included:

Weeks 7-12 - The P2 project: Students tackle a discipline specific design topic proposed by their department and approved by the CRC, to effectively illustrate the application of the design principles outlined in the first 6 weeks. No formal instruction was planned for this portion of the course, although some departments provided supporting technical instruction relevant to the project. Students were expected to follow the design, project management, and communication processes learned in the first 6 weeks. Although the course co-ordinator oversees this final project, the departmental co-ordinators were responsible for the specific content and structure.

Projects offered in the P2 phase varied in technical complexity, in part depending on the term offered. Students taking the course in the second term had a higher level of technical capability from their first term experience. However, several of the first term departmental instructors compensated to some degree with supporting lectures to compliment the projects.

Project design topics included: a cell phone charger using recreational activities for energy supply; an improved mine ventilation system; and response to a chemical spill. The latter was a great example of integrating design process, professional practice, and communication. The project challenge was to manage and remediate a spill of 1000 litres of trichloroethylene on a busy street in the heart of the university campus. Student teams designed solutions to remediate the spill while also managing pedestrian and road traffic and ensuring safety of bystanders and cleanup workers. This required understanding of all relevant laws and standards, communication with external bodies such as the city'Äôs emergency response personnel and provincial oversight organizations such as Ministry of the Environment, learning and implementing safe practices required for the site, as well as the technical requirements to capture, remove, and remediate the contaminated material.

Curriculum Renewal Committee

In June 2009 department heads, undergraduate chairs, and curriculum committee chairs held a retreat to discuss future directions for the faculty. One of the outcomes from the retreat was the desire to create a sequence of courses in design and professional practice in all years of every undergraduate program. The Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) was tasked with several objectives, including creating the Engineering Design and Practice Sequence.

The committee has created high-level objectives for each year of the sequence, beginning with APSC-100, and culminating in the departmental capstone courses. The committee has developed a pair of second year courses that focus on creativity and idea generation, decision making, validation, communications, and professional practice.

The CRC draws on considerable experience in offering project-based courses in a variety of disciplines, including APSC100 (Engineering Practice), APSC 190 (Professional Engineering Skills), MECH212 (Design Techniques), and APSC381 (Fundamentals of Design Engineering. These courses illustrated various ways and means of teaching and learning design and professional skills at both the faculty-wide and departmental levels.

The CRC establishing high-level objectives to:

  • enhance design and innovation capacity of our students
  • be primarily project based, with appropriate scaffolding in early years to develop project management, design process, teaming, and communications skills
  • incorporate graduate attribute assessment, required by CEAB [12]
  • include most of the CEAB accreditation units required for engineering design
  • ensure that the structure is designed to encourage future multidisciplinary projects
  • encourage professional behaviour and skills
  • use peer mentoring to develop leadership and provide support for early year students