Subject Information and Policies

Welcome to ESD.33 Systems Engineering! This course is part of the System Design and Management (SDM) core complementing your other core courses and integrating knowledge from the foundation courses. With your help, this course will be a great learning experience exposing you to interesting ideas, challenging you to think deeply, and providing skills useful in professional practice.


Prof. Dan Frey
Prof. Don Clausing
Mr. Pat Hale


Your grade in ESD.33 will be determined based on your performance on homework, exams, and class participation as described in the table below:

(6 Assignments at 5% each
2 Assignments at 10% each)
Examination 1 10%
Examination 2 30%
Class Participation 10%

Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 2 hours / session

We expect you to be present (in-person or virtually) at these sessions and to participate thoughtfully. Distance students should make the necessary video connections and be ready to participate at 8:30 when instructors will check in with the various sites. Details as to making these connections can be acquired through the SDM Program Office.

The class sessions will be used to discuss the reading assignments, to introduce new material, to amplify with examples, to do interactive exercises, and to provide feedback on assignments and exams.

Course Objectives

In systems engineering, it is helpful to give careful considerations to objectives and to the form in which they are expressed. To the extent possible, the learning objectives of this subject were developed following the guidelines articulated by Richard Felder including use of action verbs and inclusion of objectives in levels 4-6 of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives (see table below).

After taking this subject (ESD.33 — Systems Engineering) students should be able to:

  • Develop a systems engineering plan for a project in the student's industry of choice;
  • Judge the applicability of any proposed process, strategy, or methodology for systems engineering using the fundamental concepts from disciplines such as of probability, economics, and cognitive science;
  • Apply the most essential systems engineering tools (e.g., QFD, robust design, error budgeting) to realistic problems;
  • Recognize the value and limitations of modeling and simulation in the systems engineering process;
  • Formulate an effective plan for gathering and using data for the purpose of systems engineering; and
  • Determine the effects of manufacture, maintenance, and disposal on system cost and value.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

6. Evaluation Judge, Critique, Justify
5. Synthesis Design, Iinvent, Propose
4. Analysis Predict, Model, Derive
3. Application Calculate, Solve
2. Comprehension Explain, Paraphrase
1. Knowledge List, Recite

Office Hours and Assistance

The faculty will generally be available immediately after class. For other times, please contact the faculty members directly and make an appointment. It is easiest to do such via email. Oftentimes asynchronous communication is best due to the multiple and various demands on all members of the class.

Generic questions about the subject, student performance, and other related issues should be directed to Dan Frey. Questions concerning homework should also be directed to Dan Frey. Specific questions concerning material presented and discussed in class sessions should be directed to the faculty member leading that session. This is best done by email sent directly to that faculty member. It is the intent of the faculty to respond within one business day.


Computation is essential to modern systems engineering. However, it is not a primary objective of this subject to develop your proficiency with any particular software tool. We have developed assignments that require substantial computation, but we leave it to each student to select the software to use. Many of the computations that need to be carried out are statistical or probabilistic in nature. For example, one may need to generate samples drawn from a normally distributed population or may need to compute the standard deviation of a large data set or plot a histogram. A good choice for doing such tasks is MATLAB® and the associated Statistics Toolbox. Similar capabilities are embedded in Mathcad®, Maple®, and Mathematica®, as well as other software. One might be able to do all the assignments in a spreadsheet like Excel or QuattroPro®, but such tools may also limit the depth of the analysis that can be achieved. The assignments can also be done using programming language like C or FORTRAN, but this would probably be an inefficient use of time due to the needed coding. For those on campus, note that MATLAB® is available for use through the campus network. A further consideration in selecting computer tools for use in this subject is the level of support the teaching staff can provide. Professor Frey can generally provide help with MATLAB®, Mathcad®, MiniTab®, and Excel. Pat Hale can help with Crystal Ball®, MiniTab®, and Excel.

Notes on Submission of Work

The manner in which you present your work can be just as important (and in some cases more so) than the overall approach manifested within the response. Be sure to clearly explain your work, the methods used, and the underlying assumptions. Such practices make it possible for us to fairly assess your work and happen also to be good practices for documenting work in industry.

All responses to the homework assignments are to be submitted electronically. These electronic submissions are to be a single Microsoft® Word file. The reason I'm asking you to stick with Microsoft® Word is that I plan to mark up your assignments electronically in Track changes mode and email your feedback to you.

Please label your submitted file for each homework assignment in the following standard manner for this subject: your last name, your first name, an underscore, "HW", the homework assignment number, file type (".doc").

Example: SpellerTom_HW3.doc

In the case of the term project and team submissions, please include all the team members in the file name.

Example: SpellerTom_FreyDan_ClausingDon_HW4.doc

Note that documents may be printed for assessment and grading and printing will be done in black and white. Colors can certainly enhance a document and students are encouraged to use color appropriately. However, it will be helpful if you design your graphics so they also can be interpreted when printed in grayscale.

Late Policy

It is expected that responses to assignments will be submitted on the due date and time noted on the assignment. The usual policy for late assignments is that a letter grade is lost per day late. The teaching staff is well aware of the multiple time demands on students in a career-compatible environment. In the case of unusual circumstances or unavoidable conflicts, please contact Dan Frey to discuss the details and explore alternatives.

Time Commitment and Expectations

The units on an MIT subject correspond to the time that an adequately prepared student is expected to spend in a normal week. This is divided into three numbers associated with the subject (X-Y-Z) with X being class time, Y being laboratory time, and Z being work outside of class. The numbers associated with ESD.33 are (3-0-9) making this a 12-unit subject. However, the summer term is compressed from a regular academic year term as there are 10 weeks as compared to 14 during a regular term. Thus, one must accomplish in 10 weeks what would normally be accomplished in 14 weeks. Thus, the overall weekly time commitment is expected to be 12 x 1.4 = 16.8 hours. This includes to 4.2 hours per week in class and 12.6 hours per week out of class. The out of class time will roughly be split between reading assignments and homework.

This course will not be graded on a curve. In principle, everyone in the course can earn an A, but that is not usually what happens. Historically 50% to 25% of students earn a B and a small number earn a C or worse. All problems will be graded on a letter basis according to the MIT definition of grades:

A — Exceptionally good performance, demonstrating a superior understanding of the subject matter, a foundation of extensive knowledge, and a skillful use of concepts and/or materials.

B — Good performance, demonstrating capacity to use the appropriate concepts, a good understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to handle the problems and materials encountered in the subject.

C — Adequate performance, demonstrating an adequate understanding of the subject matter, an ability to handle relatively simple problems, and adequate preparation for moving on to more advanced work in the field.

D — Minimally acceptable performance, demonstrating at least partial familiarity with the subject matter and some capacity to deal with relatively simple problems, but also demonstrating deficiencies serious enough to make it inadvisable to proceed further in the field without additional work.

E — Unsatisfactory performance.

Plusses and minuses will be used in conjunction with the letters in grading all work. The final grade will include plusses and minuses.

Academic Honesty (This academic honesty policy is adapted from the policy used in 16.01-04, Unified Engineering.)

The fundamental principle of academic integrity is that one must fairly represent the source of the intellectual content of the work one submits for credit. Students are trusted to adhere to this principle and its meaning in the context of this subject as subsequently explained. Official Institute policy regarding academic honesty can be found in the current Bulletin under "Academic Procedures and Institute Regulations".

What is the policy on examinations? The examinations in this subject are to represent individual work. You may not receive any help from other students or any other individuals.

What about homework assignments? Can we work together? We encourage students to work together in this subject to understand the homework assignments and to learn in general. There is much to be gained in sharing the learning process. However, the final submission should represent your own expression of the final response to the assignment and not a copy of someone else's expression thereof, whether directly from a person or as recorded on paper (e.g. a book) or electronically (e.g. on a website). Furthermore, you must fairly represent the authorship of the intellectual content of the work you submit for credit by acknowledging the contribution of sources (e.g., books, web sites) you consult in the process of completing assignments. In addition, at the end of each assignment on which you collaborated with other students, you must cite the students and the interaction. The purpose of this is to acknowledge their contribution to your work. Some examples follow:

  1. You discuss concepts, approaches and methods which could be applied to a homework assignment before starting your write-up. This process is encouraged. You are not required to make a written acknowledgment of this type of interaction.

  2. After working an assignment independently, you compare responses with another student which confirms your results and response. You should acknowledge that the other student's write-up was used to check your own. No credit will be lost if the response is correct, the acknowledgment is made, and no direct copying of the other response is involved.

  3. After working an assignment independently, you compare responses with another student which alerts you to an error in your own work which you then correct. You should state at the end of your submission that you corrected your error on the basis of checking responses with the other student. No credit will be lost if the response is correct, the acknowledgment is made, and no direct copying of the other response is involved.

  4. You and another student work through an assignment together exchanging ideas as the effort progresses. You both should state at the end of your individual submissions that you worked jointly. No credit will be lost if the responses are correct, the acknowledgment is made, and the assignment write-up is independent.

  5. You copy all or part of an assignment write-up from a reference such as a textbook or past solution (this is in contrast to referring to such a reference and developing the solution yourself). You must cite the reference. Partial credit will be given, since there is some educational value in reading and understanding the solution.

  6. You copy verbatim all or part of a write-up from another student. You must cite the person by name. Very little partial credit will be given.

  7. Verbatim copying of any material which you submit for credit without reference to the source is considered to be academically dishonest.