PRISM Magazine On-Line  - December 1999
engineering.edu
A Case for Case Studies

By Vicky Hendley

One of the resources most commonly requested by Prism readers is case study information, and the World Wide Web has a variety of sites offering case studies on engineering ethics, design, manufacturing, product evolution, and more.

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology/Carleton University Engineering Case Studies

    This is a good place to start for any educator interested in adding case studies to his or her syllabus. Geza Kardos, a retired Carleton University mechanical and aerospace engineering professor, provides the content for the site at http://civeng.carleton.ca/ECL/ .

    What are engineering cases, and why are they useful classroom tools? Cases are not technical papers, Kardos insists, but written accounts of "an engineering activity as it actually occurred, rather than a demonstration of the validity of a particular or 'best' solution. It is intended to be a medium for classroom learning about engineering." He writes that by using case studies, students and instructors may find better ways to deal with technical problems.

    The site includes a wealth of valuable material, including a searchable catalogue of more than 250 cases maintained by the Center for Case Studies in Engineering. Case abstracts are available online and are searchable by subject classification.

    The site also includes a number of useful papers, including one describing how to write engineering case studies, and Kardos' own "extensive set of notes for a workshop on using cases in education."

 

University of Virginia School of Engineering's Case Studies in Engineering Design

    The case studies on this page ( www.people.virginia.edu/~shj2n/case/casehme.html) focus on conventional design processes such as just-in-time manufacturing, concurrent engineering, and flexible manufacturing.

    Studies recently on the site include everything from a history of the Panama Canal, to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, to high-tech innovations such as the design of Motorola pagers and personalized bikes built by the latest CAD process.

    Check out the short case studies on design evolution, listed under Further Studies. Some of the fascinating cases include the evolution of baseball bats, clocks, CDs, Rollerblades, vision correction, golf technology, vaccines, batteries, airbags, and even the new MPEG audio software. Paper topics include "From Pong to N-64: The Evolution of Video Gaming," "From Catgut and Hides to Advanced Computers: The History of Sewing," and "Too Many Secrets: The Evolution of Cryptographic Algorithms."

 

Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science

    This is another site (onlineethics.org) that should be bookmarked by every engineering educator and student. Established to provide engineers, scientists, and students with resources for understanding and addressing ethics problems that arise in their work.

    The site's pages include discussion cases based on issues addressed by the National Society of Professional Engineers' Board of Ethical Review; detailed cases in which engineers or scientists showed exemplary moral behavior in fulfilling their professional responsibilities; problem scenarios followed by interviews with knowledgeable people on how best to address the problems; materials about ethical issues for engineers and scientists in various corporate settings; samplings of ethical codes; links to other sites; and essays on science and engineering ethics.

    Established in 1995 with a grant from the National Science Foundation, the site is produced by a project team and advisors from a variety of disciplines in addition to engineering and science, including individuals with oversight responsibilities for ethical behavior for professional societies, corporations, and government agencies as well as academics.

 

The Clearinghouse for Decision Case Education

    Developed by the Program for Decision Cases at the University of Minnesota, this site (www.decisioncase.edu) is a good resource for cases related to agriculture, natural resources, and environmental education, including bioengineering. The site is designed to serve as an information resource to case developers, including students, researchers and educators; act as a support network to case developers and users; extend case education to new disciplines and audiences; promote an approach to decision-making that encourages more reflective and analytical practice; and disseminate high-quality cases to educators, students, and researchers.

 

    Vicky Hendley, former assistant managing editor of Prism, is editor of the AAHE Bulletin.