Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 16.842 Fundamentals of Systems Engineering as it was taught by Professor Olivier de Weck in Fall 2015.

This course provided a general introduction to systems engineering using both the classical V-model and the new Meta approach. Topics included stakeholder analysis, requirements definition, system architecture and concept generation, trade-space exploration and concept selection, design definition and optimization, system integration and interface management, system safety, verification and validation, and commissioning and operations. Students discussed the trade-offs between performance, lifecycle cost and system operability. Readings were based on systems engineering standards and papers. Students applied the concepts of systems engineering to a cyber-electro-mechanical system, which is subsequently entered into a design competition.

The class was taught in the form of a Small-Private-Online-Course (SPOC) and was offered simultaneously to students at MIT and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • Describe the most important Systems Engineering standards and best practices as well as newly emerging approaches.
  • Structure the key steps in the systems engineering process starting with stakeholder analysis and ending with transitioning systems to operations.
  • Analyze the important role of humans as beneficiaries, designers, operators and maintainers of aerospace and other systems.
  • Characterize the limitations of the way that current systems engineering is practiced in terms of dealing with complexity, lifecycle uncertainty and other factors.
  • Apply some of the fundamental methods and tools of systems engineering to a simple cyber-electro-mechanical system as a stepping stone to more complex and real world projects.

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

This course is a “door opener” to the world of systems engineering. It serves as a formal introduction for students interested in delving further into system modeling languages, network theory, and modeling and control.

Instructor Insights

In the following videos, Professor Olivier de Weck describes various aspects of how he teaches 16.842 Fundamentals of Systems Engineering.

"To anchor the class and provide an application that was realistic, but not overly complex, we chose to participate in the 2016 CanSat Competition . . . [It] was very rewarding to see how students ideated their concepts—always keeping in mind the requirements and the end goal."
— Olivier de Weck


Grade Breakdown

The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 50% Four group assignments
  • 20% PDR package and group presentation (PDF)
  • 10% Written quiz
  • 10% Oral exam and 2-page reflective memo
  • 10% Active class participation

Instructor Insights on Assessment

There were two examinations in this class. The first was a written online quiz in which students showed their understanding of key systems engineering concepts. The exam was administered about two-thirds through the semester once the bulk of the systems engineering theory had been covered. The quiz was open-book and open-internet. There was also a short individual oral examination (20 minutes) at the end of the semester, which took the form of a general discussion about systems engineering fundamentals and its potential future applications.

Prof. de Weck shares strategies for assessing student learning through online written and oral exams and for assessing student work completed as teams in his Instructor Insights videos.

Curriculum Information


Instructor permission

Requirements Satisfied

16.842 can be applied toward a master’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, but is not required.  


Every fall semester

Student Information


32 students

Breakdown by Year

Mostly master’s degree students from MIT and EPFL

Breakdown by Major

Mostly concentrators in Aeronautics and Astronautics

Typical Student Background

Many students had industry internship experiences prior to taking the course.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 6 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:


  • Met 1 time per week for 2 hours per session; 12 sessions total.
  • Lectures roughly followed the “ V Model” and presented key ideas and concepts for particular steps of the systems engineering process. During the lectures, the instructor asked concept questions online to check students’ conceptual understanding and to take attendance.
  • At the end of the semester, students presented their Preliminary Design Review (PDR) Packages for the 2016 CanSat competition.

Out of Class

  • Small teams of students collaborated to completed 5 assignments leading up to their PDR-level designs. Students also completed weekly reading assignments from the NASA Systems Engineering Handbook or other standard systems engineering texts. Additionally, they read one or two optional journal or conference papers per week.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

notes Lecture Notes
assignment Design Assignments
assignment Written Assignments
theaters Lecture Videos
co_present Instructor Insights