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Inventing the Precedence Diagram as Preparation for Future Learning

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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

Works in Progress: Learning and Engagement

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Robert Semmens Stanford University

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Rob Semmens should soon be a graduate of the doctoral program in Learning Sciences and Technology Design program in Stanford’s School of Education. His current research interests include the development and assessment of training techniques relevant to spatial thinking. Previously Rob worked on projects for the Army Research Institute and the Asymmetric Warfare Group. He developed instructional approaches to improve Army training, and conducted analysis of the contribution of technology to learning. Rob earned his Bachelor of Science in Systems Engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point and is a decorated combat infantryman.

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Type of Paper: Work in Progress

Visualizations and diagrams help us organize many facets of data in Systems Engineering, from Pareto charts to fish bone diagrams. Typical instruction often introduces the best form of the graphical aid actively, and in doing so, ties it directly to the task. However, a major goal of education is to prepare people for future learning, as no engineering program can teach engineers everything they will need to know.

Is it possible to introduce visualizations in such a way that engineers will be prepared to create visualizations and displays of data for systems that have yet to be designed? By having students "invent" (i.e. create for themselves without explicit instruction) the precedence diagram in a project scheduling task, similar to those used to teach the critical path method or program evaluation and review technique, they may be prepared to learn about visualizations more broadly. This paper describes efforts to encourage students to create visualizations in a problem solving context.

Prior research has shown that undergraduates will not spontaneously make visualizations of data to help them problem solve. In this study, I replicate this finding in two different tasks. The first is one in which participants needed to determine the shortest path between two towns. The second was a construction project scheduling task, in which participants needed to determine how long the entire project would take. Novices, who could most benefit from organizing information did not graphically represent the list of tasks that must be completed to build a building. They often assumed that only one task could be done at once. Potentially as a result, they did not recognize that a visualization would lead them to the correct answer.

However, when participants were asked if tasks could be done at the same time to speed up the project, participants in the experimental condition were more likely to agree than participants in the baseline condition. The experimental condition had received three tasks prior to help them see the value of visualizations, whereas the baseline condition had not. Ongoing work includes revising these materials to ensure that all participants do see the value of a visualization, and developing an intervention to allow participants to learn and use a novel visualization.

Semmens, R. (2016, June), Inventing the Precedence Diagram as Preparation for Future Learning Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25469

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