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Cognitive Diversity And The Performance Of Freshman Engineering Teams

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Understanding Students: Recruiting, Retention, Enrichment

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.330.1 - 14.330.16



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Paper Authors


Angela Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is the Director of the Environmental Engineering Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Cognitive Diversity and the Performance of Freshman Engineering Teams


Some researchers have indicated that teams with greater cognitive diversity produce superior results. Cognitive diversity can take a variety of forms, but in this work diversity of personality types is explored. The impact of cognitive styles on team performance was evaluated in a freshman environmental engineering (EVEN) course. The students worked on projects involving comparative analysis and some calculations, but no design or intrinsically “creative” requirements. Specifically, student teams in 2006, 2007, and 2008 evaluated solid waste landfills. In 2006 and 2007 the project encompassed three or four periods of in-class direction and work time. In 2008, the project was modified to compare the energy and environmental impacts of landfills to waste-to-energy incinerators and included only two class periods with instructor direction (lecture and question/answer). Three different methods were used to form the student teams. In 2006, student grades in the class to date were used to create groups with similar average scores. In 2007, each team included a non first-year student or a student in the honors program in an attempt to assign a potential “team leader” for each group. An evaluation tool to determine perception and judgment roles based on Jungian typology38 was administered via a written questionnaire to the students on the first day that the semester-project was introduced. This enabled determination of the cognitive diversity on the pre-assigned teams. In 2008, the cognitive style inventory results were used to create teams with maximum diversity. Earlier in the semester, student groups assigned alphabetically compared drinking water alternatives.

The team performance on the landfill project across the three years of the project was compared. There was not a strong indication that consideration of cognitive diversity in team formation improved the quality of the project report as indicated by higher grades. The two different team experiences in 2008 were also compared. Again, consideration of cognitive diversity during team formation was not shown to improve the project scores. However, student satisfaction with their team was improved on the teams formed by cognitive diversity. In addition, the presence of a coordinator personality type on the complex project seemed to improve team performance. Note that the variable demographics across the three years of the course and differences in the assignment may confound interpretation of the results to determine cognitive diversity impacts. The class size varied from 29 to 59 students, with 34 to 54% females, 48 to 71% declared EVEN majors, and 55 to 76% first-year students. The strongest predictor of team performance was the average overall grades of the students on the team. More data is needed to determine if cognitive diversity or its lack has a real impact on the performance of engineering teams conducting comparative assessments. Cognitive diversity may be more important for teams working on full design projects. Further research is needed to explore these ideas.


The ability to work effectively in teams is an important skill that students need to develop in order to succeed in engineering practice.1,3,4 This has led to increased use of pedagogy that

Bielefeldt, A. (2009, June), Cognitive Diversity And The Performance Of Freshman Engineering Teams Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4924

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