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Problem Solving in a Multidisciplinary Environment: Observations from a Newly Developed Program

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Teaching Problem Solving in a Multidisciplinary Context

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1254.1 - 26.1254.20



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Paper Authors


Luciana C. El Debs Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Luciana Debs, is a Technology doctoral student and Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Building Construction Management at Purdue University´s College of Technology. She received her MS from the Technical Research Institute of Sao Paulo (IPT-SP), and her BSArc from the University of São Paulo (USP), both in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Prior to her current position she worked in design coordination in construction and real estate development companies in Brazil. Her research interests include team work in construction, effective communication in spatial problem solving, and design - field team interaction.

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Rich Dionne Purdue University, West Lafayette


Marisa Exter Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Marisa Exter is an Assistant Professor of Learning Design and Technology in the College of Education at Purdue University. Dr. Exter’s research aims to provide recommendations to improve or enhance university-level design and technology programs (such as Instructional Design, Computer Science, and Engineering). Some of her previous research has focused on software designers’ formal and non-formal educational experiences and use of precedent materials, and experienced instructional designers’ beliefs about design character. These studies have highlighted the importance of cross-disciplinary skills and student engagement in large-scale, real-world projects.

Dr. Exter currently leads an effort to evaluate a new multidisciplinary degree program which provides both liberal arts and technical content through competency-based experiential learning.

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Mark Shaurette Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Mark Shaurette has a MS in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a PhD in Technology from Purdue University. He is currently an associate professor at Purdue University, was a 2012 Fulbright Scholar in Ireland, and has work experience that includes 30+ years of senior construction management practice as well as work as a research engineer for the National Association of Home Builders Research Foundation. He is active in research, education, and community outreach in the areas of building retrofit for energy conservation, sustainable construction practices, management of the demolition process, material reuse and recycling, as well as instructional design in technology education.

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Problem solving in a multidisciplinary environment: observations from a newly developed program Problem solving is seen as a desirable trait for workers in industry (Green & Jax, 2011;Saavedra & Saavedra, 2011), and also for students in general (International TechnologyEducation Association, 2007, 2002, 2000; National Research Council, 2012). This paperanalyses problem solving strategies from freshman students in a newly developed program. Theprogram has been created to focus on developing students for a new economic and social settingthat has emerged, where higher order skills are the driving force. These include, among others,unstructured problem solving, teamwork, and collaboration. Students who chose to participate inthe program have an interest in disciplines as diverse as mechanical engineering technology,building construction management, theater, and computer graphics technology. The studentscurrently enrolled in the program attended two core courses during their first semester: (1) designlab, an introduction to the design process in a studio setting, and (2) seminar, a collaborativeexperience incorporating English, communication as well as digital literacy.Multidisciplinary groups are taken as beneficial for problem solving and creativity becausepeople working in that type of environment tend to produce a wider range of solutions, in lesstime, showing improved self confidence (Denton, 1997). Because students in this program comefrom differing disciplinary areas, their views about how to achieve their goals may also vary.The study uses a qualitative approach to better understand how students with differentdisciplinary interests apply their problem solving skills in a studio based learning environment,through the use of case study analysis of the design lab class. Observations were made duringclass time, in the last months of the students´ first semester in the program. Using Jonassen’s(1997) seven steps of ill defined problem solutions to classify the observations and analyze howsuccessfully peer contributions are made by each student, researchers were able to follow howstudents collaborate, organize themselves, and share experiences to conduct their design tasks.This paper approaches multidisciplinary problem solving from the social constructivism view. Inthis sense researchers assumed that students learn from sharing experiences and socialinteractions (Hirtle, 1996; Jackson & Klobas, 2008). The study provides complementaryinformation to already developed theory from the field, but presents the finding from studentsthat are not only enrolled in a multidisciplinary class, but also participate in a multidisciplinaryprogram. Findings from this study can help researchers and faculty develop activities that buildupon peer learning in a design studio environment.

El Debs, L. C., & Dionne, R., & Exter, M., & Shaurette, M. (2015, June), Problem Solving in a Multidisciplinary Environment: Observations from a Newly Developed Program Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24591

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