Over the past twenty years product dissection has become a common pedagogical approach to help engineering students build physical intuition about components and systems, and to enable students to make connections between abstract concepts and analyses of the physical systems they represent. Many product dissection activities that are in use today have their roots in Sheppard’s (1992) Mechanical Dissection course at Stanford; however, numerous engineering product dissection-based educational activities, course modules, or entire courses have been developed since then at multiple institutions. Initially, these developments targeted both intellectual and physical activities (such as dissection) to anchor the knowledge and practice of engineering in the minds of students. However, many product dissection activities that resulted from these initial efforts tended to focus solely on the technological aspects of a product (i.e., how it functions and how it is made).
Recent efforts have sought to extend product dissection activities using cyberinfrastructure tools to study the global, social, environmental, and economic (GSEE) factors that influence the design of products and systems. One such approach is product archaeology, a framework that extends product dissection activities by prompting students to consider products as designed artifacts with a history rooted in their development.