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Teaching Social Complexity And Multidisciplinary Team Building: An Experimental Engineering Approach

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1151.1 - 14.1151.11

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Paper Authors

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Craig Laramee State University of New York, Binghamton

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Shelley Dionne State University of New York, Binghamton

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Hiroki Sayama State University of New York, Binghamton

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David Wilson State University of New York, Binghamton

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Teaching Social Complexity and Multidisciplinary Team Building: An Experimental Engineering Approach Abstract

Numerous organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and the National Academy of Engineering have placed an emphasis on the need to better prepare engineering and science professionals to work successfully within the team-based structures of today’s organizations. Additionally, engineering curriculum experts have called for the inclusion of leadership and managerial decision making training for engineers within graduate and undergraduate programs. To address this need, we have developed lecture and laboratory material that directly examines the social and political aspects of engineering through the use of experimentation, data analysis, and computer simulation.

This material was used in a new interdisciplinary junior level course with approximately 30 students from a wide range of disciplines. Using a modular format we examined concepts of collective intelligence, evolutionary product design and problem solving, game theory, collaborative problem solving, and social networks. The understanding of these concepts was re- enforced using interactive simulations and game play with immediate feedback and discussion. This was facilitated using a hand held wireless computer mediated communication (CMC) system that enabled synchronous participation of students in traditional decision theory games and exercises. This system allowed us to capture, in real time, individual, team, and class level outcomes that assisted in the evaluation of important considerations in complex social systems and better reinforcement of group dynamic theory and leader emergence.

Preliminary results indicate that using this material, students developed a better understanding of the factors that lead to effective multidisciplinary teams. Additionally, analysis of student feedback identified key areas to improve laboratory exercises but also suggests that students find the activity periods not only enjoyable but also effective at developing a deeper understanding of concepts.


Organizations around the globe have increased their reliance and dependence on work teams to provide solutions to problems that are too complex for individuals to solve alone1,2,3,4. Indeed, a recent report from the National Academy of Engineering highlighted the importance of a systems engineering perspective for contemporary engineering challenges5. This perspective inherently requires a broad range of skills so that broader requirements can be met. These include:

Complexity: Engineers must know how and when to incorporate social elements into a comprehensive systems analysis of their work.

Customerization: Increasingly, engineers will have to interact with customers demanding that engineers have well-developed people skills, that is, an understanding of how different cultures, goals and attitudes influence the decision process.

Laramee, C., & Dionne, S., & Sayama, H., & Wilson, D. (2009, June), Teaching Social Complexity And Multidisciplinary Team Building: An Experimental Engineering Approach Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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