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General Card #766
Course Modules Providing Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Grand Challenges for Engineering (GCSP Student Experiences: Multidisciplinary)
Updated: 7/16/2024 5:55 PM by Amy Trowbridge
Reviewed: 10/14/2022 1:41 PM by Becky Benishek
Course modules that provide an interdisciplinary systems perspective on the global challenges facing society in the 21st century.


This card describes course modules that were developed to introduce the global challenges facing society in the 21st century. These modules are linked below in the first folder and they are stored on a Canvas site that anyone can access. 

The modules are currently used in a 3-credit 7.5-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered through Arizona State University's (ASU) Earned Admissions (EA) program (now part of ASU Universal Learner Courses (ULC)), a program that offers both college credits at scale and a pathway for students to earn admissions into ASU. The on-ground version of this course is currently offered over a 15 week semester to students in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) at ASU,  , recognized by the National Academy of Engineering, and most of these scholars take this course during their first year and it counts toward the multidisciplinary competency of the program. 

While these modules are interrelated, they have been packaged to also stand alone to allow for easy adoption, adaptation, and implementation by faculty members in their own courses and/or programs, in both face-to-face settings and in an online environment. Each module as well as the specific material within it can be used independently from the others.   

Course Modules Introduction 

These modules are centered on the NAE's Grand Challenges for Engineering and they help students develop an interdisciplinary systems perspective on global challenges related to the Grand Challenges themes of sustainability, health, security, and joy of living. One of the modules provides an overview of the global challenges and four subsequent modules each focuses on one of these four theme areas. To show variations of the challenges and solutions, within each theme area, different scales are discussed, including developing communities, developed communities, and global scale; or personal level, national level, and global scale.  

These modules aim to increase students' awareness of the social complexities involved in meeting the needs of local and global challenges through engineering and technology. Many different types of activities were designed based on best practices to engage students and incorporated in these modules to provide students with opportunities to actively consider and evaluate the reciprocal relationship between engineering solutions or technologies and aspects of society including economics, politics, ethics, environment, culture, and human behavior. Examples of these activities include mind mapping activities, simulation-based role play, design activity, pros and cons lists, game, case studies, etc. Besides activities and discussions, different types of video material are also included in these modules. These video material consists of instructor-led video lectures, application videos with voiceover animations, video clips and/or static images, expert talks that feature research faculty members and industry professionals from across the nation discussing challenges related to their fields and their current research and industry-related work to address these challenges, and video montages of interviews conducted with various experts and NAE GCSP alumni on various topics.  

Besides modules that allow students to broadly explore the global challenges in different theme areas, one of the remaining modules focuses on a research assignment that provides students with the opportunity to learn about examples of current research efforts related to one of the theme areas that they are most passionate about. Students are also introduced to a few frameworks which they can apply to analyze the potential societal impact of these research efforts from multiple perspectives.  

In addition to developing an interdisciplinary systems perspective about the challenges and their solutions from these aforementioned modules, students also start to develop an entrepreneurial mindset needed to tackle these challenges. One of the modules describes an open ended Entrepreneurially-Minded Learning (EML) based project that invites students to find their passion, exercise their entrepreneurial mindset, and develop a future solution to fulfill a need or opportunity related to the NAE’s vision for Engineering in the 21st century: Continuation of life on the planet, making our world more sustainable, secure, healthy, and joyful. In this project, students identify an opportunity to create added value for society, develop a futuristic solution, and research current technologies and trends to show that their solution will be technically feasible in the future. Students also consider various nontechnical aspects such as social, cultural, global, legal, economic, and political factors when developing their solution. When considering these societal factors, they identify the challenges they may face in developing and implementing a solution that will be technically feasible and economically viable while also creating value for society. They are also asked to imagine the impact their solutions would have on society if they were to be developed. This project can be implemented in both an online environment and a face-to-face setting. It can be done by students individually or as a group (suggested group size: 3-4 students). Various assignments are included to help students work through the design and development process and their work is showcased in a project poster. 

To help students make sense of their learning using the dynamic, active learning, discussion-based, guided self-exploratory material, digital portfolios are introduced in one of the modules, and they provide students with opportunities to reflect on their learning, connect their knowledge and experiences, infuse that knowledge and experience with meaning, and intertwine it with their own personal identities, interests, and values.  

Last but not least, there is one module that focuses on the competencies, skills, and/or mindset that is needed to tackle the challenges. It introduces the NAE GCSP competencies and shows examples of ways to achieve each of them. There are also discussions and assignments that ask students to reflect on their interests and goals, and determine the next steps they will take toward achieving them. In video montages, experts and GCSP alumni also share their perspectives about competencies, skills, and/or mindset that they feel are important and offer suggestions for students that are working to achieve these competencies to realize the goals for engineering in the 21st century. 

List of Course Modules 

The complete list of modules and sub-modules can be found below.
1.   Module - Goals for engineering in the 21st century in an interdisciplinary, global context
      o   Vision for engineering and specific goals
      o   Developing solutions to interdisciplinary societal challenges
      o   Customer discovery, needs analysis, and opportunity identification ·        
2.   Module - Developing solutions to make our lives more sustainable
      o   Introduction to sustainability
      o   Sustainability challenges and solutions in developing communities
      o   Sustainability challenges and solutions in developed communities
      o   Global sustainability challenges ·        
3.   Module - Developing solutions to make our lives healthier  
      o   Introduction to health
      o   Global differences in health
      o   Health challenges and solutions in developed communities
      o   Health challenges and solutions in developing communities ·        
4.   Module - Developing solutions to make our lives more secure
      o   Introduction to security
      o   Personal security challenges and solutions
      o   National security challenges and solutions
      o   Global security challenges and solutions ·        
5.   Module - Developing solutions to make our lives more joyful
      o   Introduction to joy of living
      o   Education-related challenges and solutions
      o   Challenges and solutions in joy of living
      o   Challenges and solutions related to engineering the tools of scientific discovery and exploration
6.   Module - Impact of engineering solutions
      o   Societal impact of technology frameworks ·        
7.   Module - How can you make an impact?
      o   Realizing the goals for engineering in the 21st century: competencies
      o   Taking action ·        
8.   Module - Future solutions project
      o   Future solutions project overview
      o   Assignment: needs analysis part 1
      o   Assignment: needs analysis part 2
      o   Assignment: developing a solution
      o   Assignment: identifying technology development milestones
      o   Assignment: project poster ·        
9.   Module - Research assignment ·        
10. Module - Professional portfolio
      o   Professional portfolio
      o   Digital portfolio reflections ·        
11. Module - Additional resources
      o   Gathering information  

How the Course Modules are Used in the 7.5-week MOOC 

The first 7 modules listed above are each covered in a week when they are used in the MOOC that was previously mentioned. Within the MOOC, the Future Solutions project is conducted over the entire duration of the 7.5 week course. It is introduced at the end of week 1 and students work on one project assignment during each of the subsequent weeks. The project poster is submitted at the end of the course. The research assignment listed in the 9th module is introduced at the beginning of week 6 (Module - Impact of engineering solutions) and is submitted at the end of the same week. The digital portfolio mentioned in the Module - Professional portfolio is introduced and set up by students before the start of week 1.  They then complete a reflection at the end of each of the theme modules (Modules 2-5) and complete a final reflection and showcase their accomplishments at the end of the course. 

Link to EM 

EM is introduced and its importance in tackling the challenges presented is addressed in one of the modules and it is also instilled throughout all other modules. More specifically, these course modules cover the three C's in the following ways. 


Students are encouraged to view the challenges presented as opportunities. There are discussions about stakeholders and target customers, the importance of customer discovery, how to solicit voice of the customers in order to identify specific customer needs, how to organize customer needs and extrapolate customer needs in larger contexts for opportunity identification. These concepts and techniques are practiced in the Future Solutions project.

Besides the project, many of the activities and discussions also provide students with opportunities to explore the role the customers play in the development of technologies to address the challenges. One such example is the case study about PlayPumps, which are merry-go-round type devices that pump water as children play on them. The solution was implemented in South African countries without proper sociocultural considerations of the communities and this has led to the failure of the solution. Another example is the You Decide! activity where students are asked to rank nanotechnologies based the importance and usefulness to them and again to their assigned characters. This activity helps students better understand how people's value shapes the development and implementation of technologies.  

Some of these activities also help students explore a contrarian view of accepted solutions, by critically considering the many non-technical challenges that these solutions might face during their development and implementation and possible negative impact they could have on society from multiple perspectives. Examples of these challenges include economic barriers, public opinion, ethical concerns, to name a few. And social relationships, economics, politics, environment, are among some of the examples of ways these technologies might impact society negatively


Throughout the modules, an interdisciplinary systems approach is emphasized as students explore the challenges and consider potential technological solutions that address them. Students are encouraged to view technologies as part of larger systems, and consider both technical elements and non-technical elements that interact with these technologies. Students are encouraged to consider and make connections between technologies and aspects of society including people and different organizations, economics, politics, ethics, environment, culture, and human behavior, and integrate information from these multiple perspectives as they develop technologies. Students practice this in their Future Solutions projects as well as many activities and discussions. 

Some example activities that help students make connections include the Climate Policy activity, the Energy Economics activity, the National Security Role Play activity, and the Advanced Technology Mind Map activity, etc.. For example, in the Climate Policy activity, students make connections between technologies and public policy to help them understand the role public policy plays in the diffusion of innovations. The Energy Economics game provides students with an opportunity to make connections between various factors including tariffs, tax credit, political conflicts, weather events, infrastructure degradation, technology advancements, and the success of various technologies in the energy market. In the National Security Role Play activity, students play the role of a governor who makes a series of decisions about the actions they would take in response to a security threat affecting multiple states. As students make decisions, they factor in interactions and connections between engineers, businesses, local, state, and national government, humanitarian aid organizations, media, citizens, and others that are necessary not only to detect and mitigate the current threat situation but also to prevent possible future threats. The Advanced Technology Mind Map activity asks students to critically consider the implication of the development and implementation of an advanced technology and use a mind map to show its connection and interaction with various aspects of society. 

Besides making connections between technology and various aspects of society, students also make connections between the themes introduced in the modules, including sustainability, health, security, and joy of living, recognizing that many of the challenges are related to more than one theme area and thus efforts from multiple disciplines must be integrated in addressing them.   

Creating Value 

These course modules emphasize the importance of considering the impact of technologies on society from multiple perspectives, including sociocultural, economic, environmental, global, political, etc., and introduces multiple frameworks that help students analyze/predict the societal impact of technologies. Students consider and articulate the value proposition of their Future Solutions project and identify multiple ways their future technology would create value for their stakeholders, target customers, and society. In the Research Assignment, students also analyze the potential societal impact of examples of current research efforts that address challenges within a theme area they are most passionate about from multiple perspectives.

ASEE Papers about this work

The paper that discusses the design and development of the course modules and insights gained from the initial offering of the MOOC was presented in the F341A Multidisciplinary Learning Experiences Session at the 2020 ASEE Annual Conference.  An additional paper assessing the use and effectiveness of these open access course modules shared with faculty via an online platform was presented at the 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference. These papers can be found in the folders section of this card.   

What is Included in this Card 

Included in the folders below is the link to the Course Modules description page (enrollment instructions are found on this page) and two ASEE papers that describe the design, development, and initial offering of the MOOC in which these course modules are currently used at ASU, and the use and effectiveness of the open access course modules available on the online platform.  

Connection to other work

These course modules were developed by faculty and staff at ASU as part of a GCSP "Toolkit" to benefit students at other institutions as well as ASU. Other opportunities and resources developed as a part of this toolkit include a Grand Challenges focused Speaker Series, a three week project-based Entrepreneurial Experience for undergraduate students in GCSP, and Industry workshop(s) focused on understanding and communicating the value of entrepreneurially minded GCSP students in addressing challenges faced by Industry.  See Related Cards sections for links to cards about the toolkit and its components. 


Learning Objectives
Learning Objectives of the Course Modules 

Students will be able to      
●       Develop an interdisciplinary understanding of the global engineering Grand Challenges that human societies face in the 21st century;
●       Describe the NAE Grand Challenges themes, and learn about ongoing research in all Grand Challenges theme areas;
●       Identify opportunities to create added value in the Grand Challenges areas, and apply customer-focused design and an entrepreneurial mindset to conceptualize a potential future solution; 
●       Interpret why (and in what ways) a technology or design solution adds value from multiple perspectives (technological, sociocultural, economic, environmental, global, etc.), and describe a design solution in terms of its societal value (as well as its technical features and function);
●       Demonstrate an awareness of societal issues (e.g., sociocultural, political, economic, environmental, etc.) that influence and/or constrain engineering solutions. 

EM Outcomes of the Course Modules 

Besides the learning objectives listed above, these course modules also cover the following EM outcomes: 
●      Critically observes surroundings to recognize opportunity
●      Explores multiple solution paths
●      Gathers data to support and refute ideas
●      Suspends initial judgement on new ideas
●      Observes trends about the changing world with a future-focused orientation/perspective
●      Collects feedback and data from many customers and customer segments
●      Applies technical skills/knowledge to the development of a technology/product
●      Modifies an idea/product based on feedback
●      Focuses on understanding the value proposition of a discovery
●      Articulates the idea to diverse audiences
●      Persuades why a discovery adds value from multiple perspectives (technological, societal, financial, environmental, etc.)
●      Understands how elements of an ecosystem are connected -Integrates/synthesizes different kinds of knowledge
Instructor Tips
All of the course modules are currently housed within a site on the Canvas Learning Management System. The way these materials can be adopted and used is described below for each type of material included. 

Video Material  

The videos included in these modules can be incorporated into any learning management system. The link and embed code can be obtained for each video by right clicking the video. Where applicable, the PowerPoint slides (in .pptx format) have also been included, to help with in-person delivery of the video content. Handouts (in .pdf format) that include the slides as well as image attributions are also included for these videos.  

Activity and Discussion  

For the majority of the activities, MS Word documents (.docx) are provided that include descriptions of the activities, instructions, and assessment rubrics. For activities where video instructions and/or interactives (e.g., drag-and-drop exercise, game, etc.) are included, their descriptions, activities, and instructions can be found on the activity pages. The interactives can be downloaded, or embedded into other platforms by copying the embed codes. Most of the activities were designed and developed for an online environment, however, they can be adapted for face-to-face classroom settings. For some of these activities, we have suggested tools for online implementations, and described how it can be done for an in-person setting or included alternative versions for implementation in a face-to-face classroom setting. The majority of the activities each has an associated discussion where students have the opportunity to share their work from the activity and insights gained from it.  If these activities are implemented in a face-to-face classroom setting, their associated discussions can be directly integrated into the activities as in class discussions right after students have completed the activities. Each activity and its associated discussion can be conducted within one class period.  


Three types of assignments are included in these course modules: assignments for the Future Solutions project, assignments for digital portfolios, and a research assignment. For all of these assignments, MS Word (in .docx) files have been posted that include assignment instructions and assessment rubrics. When applicable, different versions of the same assignment are shared to to help with implementation in different environments. 
  • Demonstrate constant curiosity about our changing world
  • Explore a contrarian view of accepted solution
  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
Creating Value
  • Identify unexpected opportunities to create extraordinary value
  • Determine Design Requirements
  • Develop New Technologies
  • Perform Technical Design
  • Analyze Solutions
  • Identify Opportunity
  • Evaluate Tech Feasibility, Customer Value, Societal Benefits & Economic Viability
  • Assess Policy & Regulatory Issues
  • Communicate Solution in Economic Terms
  • Communicate Societal Benefits
Categories & Tags
  • Classroom & Courses
  • All Engineering Disciplines
National Academy of Engineering, “NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program.” Accessed Jan. 27th, 2020. [Online] Retrieved from: http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/GrandChallengeScholarsProgram.aspx.
A. K. Trowbridge and H. Zhu, “Work in Progress: An Interdisciplinary Course Designed to Assist First-Year Students in Planning and Preparing for Success in the NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program,” presented at the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference, Columbus, OH, USA, June 25-28, 2017, Paper ID #19563.
H. Zhu, A. K. Trowbridge and J. R. Roter, “Work in Progress: Development of an Interdisciplinary MOOC that Introduces the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering,” presented at the American Society of Engineering Education Annual Conference, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, June 21-24, 2020, Paper ID #30538.
Zhu, H., & Trowbridge, A., & Taylor, K., & Laxman, D. J. (2021, July), Online Sharing Platform for Course Modules: Understanding Materials Use and Effectiveness Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://strategy.asee.org/37540
This content was created through the author’s work with the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN).
This folder contains the link to the Course Modules description page, where enrollment instructions can be found. During the enrollment process, users will be prompted to create a Canvas account and register for the Course Modules Canvas site. Access to an email is required to complete the registration. Once enrolled, users will find the Course Modules Canvas site listed on the Canvas dashboard.
Title Type Ext Date Size Downloads
https://courses.cpe.asu.edu/browse/ira-a-fulton-schools-of-engineering/courses/interdisciplinary-perspectives-grand-challenges Other 3/4/2020 -  
This folder includes the ASEE papers that describe the design, development, and initial offering of the MOOC, and the use and effectiveness of the open access course modules by faculty at other institutions that are mentioned in the card.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
2020 ASEE paper MOOC Journal / Article .pdf 4/4/2022 1 MB 754
2021 ASEE paper Modules Journal / Article .pdf 4/4/2022 996.8 KB 728