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Exploring Innovation, Psychological Safety, Communication, and Knowledge Application in a Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Course

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Capstone Courses

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Narges Balouchestani-Asli University of Toronto

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Narges Balouchestani-Asli is an M.A.Sc. Candidate with the Institute for Multidisciplinary Design and Innovation (UT-IMDI) at the University of Toronto. She is also part of the Collaborative Program in Engineering Education at the University of Toronto. She holds an Honors Bachelor in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toronto. During her studies at the University of Toronto she was involved as a Teaching Assistance with more than four engineering design courses from first year to fourth year. Her research focuses on team level factors affecting innovation in capstone design courses.

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Matthew Kiprop Greenacre Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry

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Matthew completed his Bachelors of Arts and Science and Psychology at McMaster University. He used his background in interdisciplinary studies and research methods, when worked as a Research Assistant in the Multifunctional Lightweight Structures Lab in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department of U of T, assisting with research in multidisciplinary engineering education. He currently attends Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University.

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Kamran Behdinan University of Toronto

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Dr. Kamran Behdinan, earned his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Victoria in British Columbia in 1996, and has a considerable experience in both academic and industrial settings. Kamran was appointed to the academic staff of Ryerson University in 1998, tenured and promoted to the level of associate professor in 2002 and subsequently to the level of Professor in 2007 and served as the director of the aerospace engineering program (02-03), and the founding Chair of the newly established Department of Aerospace Engineering (07/2003 – 07/2011). Kamran was a founding member and the Executive Director of the Ryerson Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation (2003-2011). He was also a founding member and the coordinator of the Canadian-European Graduate Student Exchange Program in Aerospace Engineering at Ryerson University. Dr. Behdinan held the NSERC Design Chair in “Engineering Design and Innovation”, 2010-2012, sponsored by Bombardier Aerospace and Pratt and Whitney Canada. Dr. Behdinan joined the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto, in the rank of Full Professor in September 2011. He is the NSERC Design Chair in “Multidisciplinary Design and Innovation – UT IMDI”, sponsored by NSERC, University of Toronto, and thirteen companies including Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt and Whitney Canada, United Technology Aerospace Systems, Magna International, Ford, and DRDC Toronto. He is the founding director of the “University of Toronto Institute for Multidisciplinary Design and Innovation”, an industry-centred project-based learning institute in partnership with major aerospace and automotive companies.

Dr. Behdinan is the past President of the Canadian Society of Mechanical Engineering (CSME), served as a member of the technical and scholarship committees of the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL) and a member of the Design Division of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI). He is the founding director and principal investigator of the University of Toronto, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering “Advanced Research Laboratory for Multifunctional Lightweight Structures”, funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (Leader’s Opportunity Fund) and Ontario Research Fund. His research interests include Design and Development of Light-Weight Structures for aerospace, automotive, and nuclear applications, Multidisciplinary Design Optimization of Aerospace and Automotive systems, Multi-scale Simulation of Nano-structured Materials and Composites. He has supervised 18 PhDs, 65 Masters’, and 9 Post Doctoral Fellows. He has also published more than 230 papers, and 6 book chapters. He has been the recipient of many prestigious awards and recognitions such as the Research Fellow of Pratt and Whitney Canada and Fellow of the CSME.

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In recent years, engineering schools have been inspired by accreditation bodies to incorporate multidisciplinary teaming in their curricula, and hence engineering schools have started to offer multidisciplinary capstone design courses. These courses give senior engineering students industry/client based projects in order to prepare them for today’s diverse educational and professional work place. In contrast to monodisciplinary capstones, multidisciplinary capstones create a diverse team of students from different engineering disciplines to design, build, and test proof of concepts for an industry based project. There is limited quantitative and qualitative research about multidisciplinary capstone’s performance. Hence to provide insight on multidisciplinary capstone’s performance, we explored the relationship between innovation (at the individual level and at the team level), psychological safety, knowledge transfer (application of one’s knowledge), and feedback from teammates, supervisors, and clients in a multidisciplinary engineering capstone course. We also investigated barriers that multidisciplinary capstone teams encountered to be innovative by observing the teams’ psychological safety behaviors. We hypothesised that multidisciplinary teams are likely to produce innovative solutions due to their functional diversity. However, functional diversity can also lead to conflict. According to literature, multidisciplinary teams have low psychological safety score because of their diversity. Low psychological safety affects team’s collaborative learning and efficiency. We investigated these factors and relationships in multidisciplinary capstone.

A mix of quantitative and qualitative methods were used in this study. We did an online survey with a 55% response rate. Moreover, we conducted 11 one-on-one interviews with students over a course of one year. Our questionnaire included a set of questions on innovation, psychological safety, knowledge use and transfer, and feedback. We examined our data to find relationships between these variables that can help us understand the dynamics of innovation in a multidisciplinary capstone course. We found correlations between the psychological safety score of teams and their collaborative learning and team efficiency. We also found that team innovation has a particularly strong correlation with psychological safety and is also significantly correlated with teammate’s feedback score.

Our research shows that multidisciplinary students are very innovative due to their knowledge diversity. However, there are certain barriers regarding the knowledge transfer, communication, and psychological safety that can be addressed during the development of such a course. Our research provides data-driven insights for development of an effective multidisciplinary capstone design course. We found statistics that support the idea that feedback, knowledge transfer, psychological safety, and the multidisciplinary nature of capstone are positively correlated to innovation at the team level and/or at the individual level. We also found that psychological safety of the team has a strong correlation with innovation. Our results show that low psychological safety inhibits innovative behaviors and high psychological safety encourages innovation.

Balouchestani-Asli, N., & Greenacre, M. K., & Behdinan, K. (2016, June), Exploring Innovation, Psychological Safety, Communication, and Knowledge Application in a Multidisciplinary Capstone Design Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26202

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