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Student and Practitioner Approaches to Systems Thinking: Integrating Technical and Contextual Considerations

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Conference

2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

NSF Grantees: Student Thought

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

14

DOI

10.18260/1-2--35219

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/35219

Download Count

97

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Paper Authors

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Erika A. Mosyjowski University of Michigan

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Erika Mosyjowski is a PhD candidate in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. She also earned a Master's in Higher Education at Michigan and a Bachelor's in Psychology and Sociology from Case Western Reserve University. Before pursuing a PhD, Erika had a dual appointment in UM's College of Engineering working in student affairs and as a research associate. While grounded in the field of higher education, her research interests include engineering education, particularly as related to systems thinking, organizational cultures, professional identity development, and supporting the success and ideas of underrepresented students within engineering.

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Javiera Espinoza von Bischhoffshausen University of Michigan

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Javiera Espinoza von Bischhoffshausen is a Master's student in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. She has a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaiso (PUCV), Chile (2012). Before pursuing her M.A. in Higher Education, Javiera had an appointment at the College of Engineering at PUCV in the engineering education area and also worked as a lecturer at the Department of Industrial Engineering at the same University. Her research interests include engineering education, particularly curricular design, development of critical thinking skills, and system thinking skills.

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Lisa R. Lattuca University of Michigan

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Lisa Lattuca is Professor of Higher Education and member of the Core Faculty in the Engineering Education Research Program at the University of Michigan. She studies curriculum, teaching, and learning in college and university settings, particularly how faculty attitudes, beliefs, and cultures influence curricular and instructional practices and how these in turn affect student learning.

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Shanna R. Daly University of Michigan Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-4698-2973

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Shanna Daly is an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. She has a B.E. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton (2003) and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University (2008). Her research focuses on strategies for design innovations through divergent and convergent thinking as well as through deep needs and community assessments using design ethnography, and translating those strategies to design tools and education. She teaches design and entrepreneurship courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, focusing on front-end design processes.

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Abstract

Systems thinking is recognized as a critical skill for engineers tasked with addressing complex problems in contemporary society. Often, engineering definitions of systems thinking foreground the ability to account for relationships between different technical components of a product or process but under-emphasize the ways technical elements of a solution influence and are influenced by contextual and human aspects of a problem, such as the cultural, political, and economic context, required to successfully address a problem. While there has been national attention to the importance of these contextual skills in engineering, these aspects of engineering work have not often been conceptualized as elements of systems thinking. Thus, few empirical studies of systems thinking have included the ways engineers account for contextual influences in solving complex problems. Our team seeks to characterize expertise in what we refer to as comprehensive systems thinking— a holistic approach to problem solving in which linkages and interactions of the immediate work with constituent parts, the larger sociocultural context, and potential impacts over time are identified and incorporated into decision making. Promoting comprehensive systems thinking that draws on both technical and contextual competencies can serve to ensure engineering solutions better meet the needs of stakeholders and of communities in which the solutions are implemented. In addition, emphasizing the value of contextual aspects of systems thinking as a core engineering skill may help to broaden participation in engineering, as research suggests socially-grounded engineering work attracts a more diverse pool of engineers.

Our paper presents some preliminary results related to an inductively-derived classification of comprehensive systems thinking expertise. We describe four cases from our data that represent the ways engineering students and professionals varyingly account for interrelationships between technical and contextual factors in approaching a complex problem. These four were selected from the 46 interviews we conducted with engineers from a range of engineering fields and levels of educational and professional experience, from undergraduate freshmen to professional engineers with 20+ years in industry. Participants were interviewed about their personal experiences solving a particular complex problem in their field and the ways their educational, professional, and life experiences contribute to their thinking.

Mosyjowski, E. A., & Espinoza von Bischhoffshausen, J., & Lattuca, L. R., & Daly, S. R. (2020, June), Student and Practitioner Approaches to Systems Thinking: Integrating Technical and Contextual Considerations Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35219

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