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Investigating Team Structure of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Engineering Student Teams during Design Performance

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Design in Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.823.1 - 24.823.17



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Paper Authors


Matthew E. McFarland University of Virginia

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3rd Year Master's Student in Systems Engineering

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Reid Bailey University of Virginia

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Investigating Team Structure of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Engineering Student Teams during Design Performance This paper investigates the behavior of undergraduate engineering students oninterdisciplinary teams engaged in an engineering design project. The specific behavior ofinterest is when undergraduate engineering student teams split into subgroups to work. Thispaper seeks to offer insight into the following research questions: 1) During which stages ofengineering design do undergraduate engineering interdisciplinary teams split into subgroups? 2)For what engineering design tasks do undergraduate engineering interdisciplinary teams splitinto subgroups to accomplish? 3) When undergraduate engineering interdisciplinary teams splitinto subgroups, is the split by major, curricular program or other factors? During the spring semesters of 2012 and 2013, a study was conducted at the Sunapee StateUniversity to assess the impact of an interdisciplinary program instituted within the College ofEngineering. The purpose of this study was to develop a strategy to evaluate the interdisciplinarydesign skills of undergraduate students. The program curriculum focuses on developing astudent’s knowledge and skills that address both component level design and systemsintegration. This interdisciplinary program, the Collaborative Engineering Program, is a crosscollaboration between the Electrical and Computer Engineering and Systems Engineering. Thethree year curriculum fosters a learning environment in which electrical, computer, and systemsengineering students collaborate to engage in interdisciplinary engineering design. The sample includes 42 fourth year students majoring in electrical, computer, or systemsengineering. Out of the 42 students, 21 were enrolled in the Collaborative Engineering Program.This study consisted of an activity where teams of four students participated in an electrical-computer-systems engineering integration focused design project. Each team was composed oftwo systems engineering students and two students of either electrical or computer engineeringmajors. In addition, each team was also composed of a combination of students enrolled or notenrolled in the Collaborative Engineering Program. Students were presented with a client-basedchallenge, given specific solution requirements, and asked to build a prototype within a threehour timeframe. Following the model of Verbal Protocol Analysis, students were encouraged totalk aloud throughout the study for the researcher to observe the reasoning behind thoughtprocess and decision making actions. A total of eleven teams were videoed during the designactivity. The videos were transcribed and coded according to design stage using a coding schememodified from the scheme used by Atman, et al [1]. Early results indicate that teams spend a widely varying amount of time working all together.Most the time spent separated in subgroups was during implementation and testing. Nearly allproblem definition work was done as a whole team early in the design activity. Early results alsoshow that there is not one factor driving exactly how teams divide when they do split intosubgroups, although skillset with certain tasks (e.g., software coding) plays a significant rolewhen specialized knowledge or skills are needed. The results of this study will contribute to research on teams and teamwork in designeducation, interdisciplinary design and assessment of design activities using video analysis.Furthermore, the work will provide a baseline of interdisciplinary design team behaviors towhich future researchers can compare the effect of specific curricula and courses aimed ataffecting such behavior.[1] C. Atman, J. Borgford-Parnell, and K. Deibel, “Matters of context in design,” in in About: Designing: Analysing Design Meetings, 2009, pp. 399–416.

McFarland, M. E., & Bailey, R. (2014, June), Investigating Team Structure of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Engineering Student Teams during Design Performance Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20715

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