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Engineering: origins, methods, context

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This introductory module examines the range of human activity that is ’engineering’, setting current practice in a historical context and looking forward to new developments that will help shape the future. Key scientific principles, mathematical techniques and design methodologies are introduced and explained, to equip you with a basic toolkit on which to build further study. Mathematics is presented in an engineering context to emphasise relevance and build your confidence in framing problems, addressing design challenges and formulating solutions. Reflective practice is encouraged throughout and you will have the opportunity to share and discuss aspects of your work with other students.

What you will study

The wealth and safety of nations depend upon engineering skills. This module, which is the starting point for a recognised qualification in engineering, shows you why. It uses a combination of books, online resources and media to help you become a:

  • successful learner
  • well-informed student of engineering
  • confident user of mathematics.

This module introduces you to key principles of engineering and design engineering, while helping you to improve your study skills and to develop as an independent and reflective learner. You will learn how the broad discipline that is engineering has developed over time, explore current examples of engineering practice, and get a taster of future trends.

Scientific knowledge and mathematical skills are both essential components of engineering. They form a major part of this module and are included and practised throughout, with the engineering topics providing a clear context for their application.

The module is presented in two parts, each supported by a printed book. Your study will be guided from the module website, which includes interactive online activities, practice quizzes and media clips. You will have opportunities to communicate and work online with other students, and have tutor support throughout the module.

Part one

The first part introduces the scientific and social context within which engineering has developed and is currently practised. It explores the nature and purpose of engineering by looking at examples of engineering products and projects, and of engineers at work, and provides an opportunity to think about your own experience and plans for the future. The resources needed for engineering are explored. These include people skills, sources of information and guidance, scientific models and mathematical techniques, as well as physical resources like materials and energy.

The mathematical focus of this part is on algebra and mathematical modelling. Topics will include:

  • using numbers, symbols and units appropriately
  • setting out and rearranging equations
  • working with fractions, percentages and powers
  • creating a mathematical model
  • drawing and interpreting graphs.

There are opportunities to check that you have the basic background knowledge needed to study the module and to fill in any gaps, and plenty of chances to practise applying techniques to engineering problems.

Other activities will explore learning styles, time management, study techniques and good academic practice. You will be guided in using the OU library and encouraged to interact with other students on the module forums. You will use a learning log to record and reflect on your progress.

Part two

Design engineering is the focus of this part. You will begin by looking at ways of approaching complex design problems and then look at all stages of the design process, from finding problems to testing final design solutions. Case studies will be used to provide examples of the evolution of design projects, and how the relationship between creative to analytical thinking can be harnessed.

Key engineering topics covered will be:

  • design contexts – drivers, conditions and constraints
  • identifying, framing, representing and researching design challenges
  • creative techniques and approaches to problem solving
  • talking about design engineering – words, images, drawings, communication
  • the design process – iteration, optimisation, physical and digital prototyping
  • current and future trends in design engineering.

You will have more opportunities to practise and extend your skills in algebra and using graphs, and new mathematics topics in geometry and trigonometry will be introduced. You will be encouraged to experiment with using techniques from your growing ‘mathematical toolbox’ to tackle engineering challenges.

Part two of the module will also introduce you to Open Engineering Studio, a virtual space where you can share work with other students, share ideas, and give and receive feedback on design tasks.

Throughout the module, interactive quizzes will give you a chance to practise maths questions to prepare for the interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs). Assignment questions will be based on activities in the module material.

By the end of this module you will be very well prepared to continue your studies in engineering.

If you are considering progressing to Engineering: frameworks, analysis, production  (T193), normally you should have completed or be studying this module. 

Professional recognition

This is the introductory module for all OU engineering qualifications. The learning outcomes for these qualifications are designed to fulfil the Engineering Council’s requirements under UK-SPEC and are accredited by several engineering institutions as fulfilling the educational requirements for professional recognition.

Entry requirements

This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at OU level 2.

You’ll need some knowledge of mathematics, an interest in technology, and the ability to read and write to a good standard of English.

Are you ready to start an Engineering qualification? is a diagnostic quiz designed to help you decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module. You will be given advice and guidance on what to do next at the end of the quiz. (Note the interactive features of the quiz do not run on mobile and tablet devices.)

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

Two module books, module handbook, assessment guide, access to the module website which includes an interactive module map, online study material and activities.

You will need

A scientific calculator, basic drawing equipment and a device capable of producing digital images (e.g. a smartphone, digital camera or scanner).

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with either:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. You will also be able to receive support from a wider pool of tutors through specialist forums and study events.

We expect to be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. Online study events will also be offered.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

There are four interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs). These do not count towards your final mark, but you need to reach a threshold on at least three of them to pass the module.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying T192 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Engineering: origins, methods, context (T192) starts twice a year – in April and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019 and April 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in April 2024.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
4 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
No examination
No residential school

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