June 24, 2007
June 24, 2007
June 27, 2007
12.728.1 - 12.728.12
Facilitating Multidisciplinary Teams in a Service-Learning Environment
Today’s engineers have to be able to work with colleagues of different backgrounds, both from different engineering fields as well as those from fields outside engineering. To better prepare graduates for this environment, universities and colleges are placing an ever increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. The rise of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary engineering programs at many universities illustrates this trend. However, there are many obstacles to effectively functioning on multidisciplinary teams. Most disciplines have specific languages that may make collaboration difficult. Disciplines also tend to have unique methods or tools for designing that may be contradictory. The EPICS program at Purdue University is a service- learning program that is highly multidisciplinary, and faces many of these issues. In an attempt to address these issues, the program has adopted several strategies. Those strategies, which are discussed in this paper, are the incorporation of multidisciplinary leadership in the use of advisors and teaching assistants from various disciplines, the use of inclusive language in the course outcomes, and the use of National Instruments LabVIEW to provide a common technical medium in which students can work.
Need for Multidisciplinary Teams
In their report The Engineer of 2020, the National Academy of Engineering highlighted thirteen different attributes that an engineer in the year 2020 will need to be effective. One of the driving factors in the development of these attributes is that “the population of individuals who are involved with or affected by technology…will be increasingly diverse and multidisciplinary.” This highlights one of the biggest pushes in recent years, which is for engineers who are able to function effectively on multidisciplinary teams.
Often in engineering, when the term multidisciplinary is used, it refers to different branches of engineering. A multidisciplinary team might have electrical, mechanical and industrial engineers on it. However, when students become practicing engineers, they will no longer be working solely with other engineers. Quite often, they will need to work with peers without a technical background. For instance, their coworkers may have a business or management degree. The people designing the casing or packaging may have degrees in the arts. Psychologists may help with the design of the user interface, and advertising and marketing specialists will introduce the product to the world. Engineers will need to be able to effectively work with and communicate with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, not only those with engineering backgrounds.
The need to train engineers to be able to function on multidisciplinary teams has been recognized by both industry and academia. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) lists “an ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams” as one of its outcomes that engineering students must meet.
Bucks, G., & Oakes, W., & Zoltowski, C., & DeRego, F., & Mah, S. (2007, June), Facilitating Multidisciplinary Teams In A Service Learning Environment Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. https://peer.asee.org/2551
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