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Improving Learning Outcomes Using Cognitive Models In Systems Design

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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

Systems Engineering Programs and Curricula

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.706.1 - 14.706.9



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Paper Authors


Joanna DeFranco Pennsylvania State University

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Lecturer of Information Science in the School of Graduate Professional Studies, Penn State University.

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Colin Neill Pennsylvania State University

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Associate Professor of Software Engineering in the School of Graduate Professional Studies,
Penn State University.

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

Improving Learning Outcomes using Cognitive Models in Systems Design


System design courses typically incorporate team projects as both active learning components of courses and for student assessment. Research indicates, however, that actually working within a team generates a new set of problems, referred to as Problem B: managing the diversity of the problem solvers in contrast to Problem A: solving the actual problem the team is working on. Given the presence of Problem B, there is a risk that student learning will actually suffer because of the team. To mitigate this risk, we propose the use of the Cognitive Collaborative Model (CCM) in team system design exercises.

The CCM is a six-stage cognitive model that takes into consideration the cognitive and social activities that occur during collaborative problem solving by facilitating problem formulation, solution planning, and system design tasks during collaboration. The model was initially developed to improve the effectiveness of engineers performing such tasks in teams and this study posits that the model will be equally effective on student learning.

A detailed statistical experiment to study the effect of this model on subjects collaboratively solving an analysis and design problem was designed and executed. Randomly assigned teams of students were presented with one of four design problems. Half the teams were then exposed to the CCM while the remaining half was not. The effect on student learning was then measured using assessment of team deliverables.

1. Introduction

In a brief survey of the graduate engineering and technology courses offered at our campus it was determined that over 50% incorporated at least one student team assignment and for the two practicum capstones in the engineering programs the entire student assessment rested upon a collaborative effort. In a survey of instructors at eight engineering schools Felder6 found that 24% always assigned a group project while another 52% assigned them in some courses. While there are pragmatic reasons for such teams (reduced grading load) their use is grounded in the reality of the engineering profession: the vast majority of graduates will spend their professional lives working in teams. Furthermore, there is evidence that if the team forms a cooperative learning group, the learning of the individual team members is enhanced9,12.

Despite the obvious benefits, however, many students resist team projects citing concerns that: they have little influence and no control over their team-mates; they believe their grade will not reflect their contribution or competence; and the transaction cost of scheduling meetings, and working collaboratively are not worth the rewards, of which they see few3. These bad team

DeFranco, J., & Neill, C. (2009, June), Improving Learning Outcomes Using Cognitive Models In Systems Design Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5698

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