Virtual On line
June 22, 2020
June 22, 2020
June 26, 2021
Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session
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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