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Complexity in the Classroom Special Session: Teaching and Learning the Cynefin Framework by Applying it to the Classroom

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Systems Engineering Division Technical Session 1

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Jennifer Karlin Minnesota State University, Mankato

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L. James Minnesota State University, Mankato


Lauren Singelmann North Dakota State University

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Lauren Singelmann earned her Ph.D. from North Dakota State University in Electrical and Computer Engineering and STEM Education in 2022. She is a faculty member for Iron Range Engineering through Minnesota State University, Mankato, and she supports instruction of Innovation-Based Learning courses at multiple institutions. Her research interests include learning analytics, experiential learning, and equitable grading and assessment.

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Complex adaptive systems are both an important fundamental principle in systems engineering education and a reality of all engineering education. The Cynefin framework, as created by Snowden and Boone (2007), is a decision-making tool that helps the engineer recognize the type of system within which they are operating and then respond in a manner that is appropriate for the cause-and-effect relationships associated with that system type. The types of system, or the domains, fall into five categories and their liminal spaces: obvious, where the cause-and-effect relationships are clear to everyone involved; complicated, where the cause-and-effect relationships are clear to those who have appropriate expertise; complex, where the cause-and-effect relationships are not predictable or necessarily even visible; chaos, where there are no cause-and-effect relationships; and disorder, where it is unclear what system context should be the focus. In this hands-on SPECIAL SESSION, participants will explore a new way to teach complex adaptive systems by experiencing it. The new pedagogical application is to use a variation on the collaborative inquiry technique where learners move through one or more cycles of delving into a system (collecting evidence), experience discussion guided through the Cynefin framework, and shared reflection on the meaning of the systems domain knowledge to operating and thriving in the system. The system we will use in the special session is a multi-institutional course wherein participants will be able to explore how additional layers of complexity and their changing cause-and-effect relationships impact pedagogical decisions to create different learning experiences. The course, cardio-vascular engineering, is an example of systems engineering topics taught in a biomedical engineering environment. The facilitators of this special session include two faculty who have experience in both teaching systems engineering and in collaborative inquiry, as well as two faculty who are part of the creation and delivery of the cardio-vascular engineering course. The course is offered simultaneously over multiple institutions with a unified syllabus that accounts for learning needs and contexts of all the students. Learning objectives for the special session include: • Increase knowledge of the Cynefin framework of complex systems; • Practice a pedagogical technique for teaching systems engineering concepts; • Reflect on using systems engineering fundamental knowledge to create learning environments in different ways, particularly as the context needs of learners and industry continue to change; and • Gain exposure to a successful course taught simultaneously across multiple institutions and student levels.

Karlin, J., & James, L., & Singelmann, L. (2022, August), Complexity in the Classroom Special Session: Teaching and Learning the Cynefin Framework by Applying it to the Classroom Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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