Pedagogical research on understanding and misconceptions of system design

Rashmi Jain, Anithashree Chandrasekaran, George M. Elias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Systems engineering is a life cycle approach to engineering design: the integration of numerous technical and non-technical disciplines in the development of new products, systems and services (Sage, 1992). While there is clear evidence of the expansion of SE as a field of engineering, there is surprisingly little research on core concepts and common misconceptions particular to the field. A recent review of literature found no systematic studies of engineering students' conceptual understanding of fundamental engineering concepts - including those pertaining to SE - despite much research on important concepts in the sciences (Streveler et al., 2004). This paper is based on authors' research to identify and define the foundational concepts of system design. This paper proposes five key concepts of systems engineering, namely, context, interdisciplinarity, value, trade-offs, and abstraction (Jain and Chandrasekaran, 2008). The understanding of these concepts was tested on students to identify their misconceptions based on "intuitively formed understandings and misinformation learned elsewhere".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)526-556
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Journal of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017


  • Abstraction
  • Concept inventory
  • Design context
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Pedagogy
  • SD
  • System design
  • Tradeoffs
  • Value


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