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Tolerance For Ambiguity: An Investigation On Its Effect On Student Design Performance

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Student Teams and Design Skills

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1343.1 - 11.1343.9



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Paper Authors


Susan Mohammed Pennsylvania State University

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Susan Mohammed is an Associate Professor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology at The Pennsylvania State University. She received her PhD from The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on teams and decision-making, with a special emphasis on team mental models, team composition and decision styles. Her published work appears in journals such as Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Personnel Psychology, Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, and Organizational Research Methods. She currently serves on the editorial board for Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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Gül Okudan Pennsylvania State University

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Gül E. Okudan is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Design at The Pennsylvania State
University. She received her Ph.D. from University of Missouri-Rolla. Her research interests include intelligent shop floor control, manufacturing strategy modeling and measurement, solid modeling, product design, and product design teams. Her published work appears in journals such as Journal of Engineering Design, Journal of Engineering Education, European Journal of Engineering Education and Technovation. She is a member of ASEE and ASME. She is also a National Research Council-US AFRL Summer Faculty Fellow of the Human Effectiveness Directorate for 2002, 2003 and 2004.

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Madara Ogot Pennsylvania State University

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Madara Ogot is an Associate Professor in Engineering Design and Mechanical Engineering at
The Pennsylvania State University. He is the co-author, along with Gül Okudan of an introductory engineering design text, Engineering Design: A Practical Guide. His current research interests include design under uncertainty, stochastic optimization and innovative design. He received his BSE from Princeton in 1987, and his MS and Ph.D. from the Pennsylvania State University in 1989 and 1991, respectively.

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

Tolerance for Ambiguity: An Investigation on Its Effect on Student Design Performance


Design is a common activity for most disciplines in engineering. Therefore, introductory engineering courses are developed to include design activities as the main driver for the curriculum. Despite this fact, however, it can not be concluded that the implementation of design teaching is done in a way conducive to student learning. While there could be several reasons for this, this paper specifically investigates the effect of tolerance for ambiguity on student design performance. An analysis of the data collected for this investigation reveals the beneficial effects of higher tolerance for ambiguity on increased efficacy, satisfaction, and conflict resolution in the context of an open-ended, team-based, industry-sponsored engineering design project. Keywords: Design teams, tolerance for ambiguity, efficacy, design performance.

1. Introduction

Because “engineering programs must demonstrate that their graduates have: …an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs,” and “an ability to function in multi-disciplinary teams….”1, design is integrated to the engineering curricula through the use of design teams. In many cases, this integration also uses industry-sponsored design projects. Most of the industry-sponsored design project applications are at the capstone design level, and many examples of these are documented in the literature 2-9. Capstone design courses are used to ease the transition from the education environment to industry by providing design problems originating from industry, and a setting for graduating engineers to work in design teams. Industry-sponsored projects not only provide a link between practicing engineers and graduating students, but also give students a deeper understanding for how they will use their discipline specific knowledge and skills in industry. Thus, although a few concerns are raised 11-12, there is overwhelming evidence for the success of capstone design courses that employ industry- sponsored design projects 2-10.

Among the benefits of industry sponsored design projects the following four items are frequently mentioned: (1) because of their inherent layers of complexity students confront issues that stretch them beyond textbooks, (2) because these projects are done for a company that cares about the outcome students feel more motivated, (3) their scope generally, demands teamwork and therefore, students learn project management, and (4) these projects give students exposure to industry cultures and practices. Accordingly, the use of industry-sponsored projects throughout the curriculum is advocated, and they are increasingly being used at the freshmen level 13-17.

At the first-year level, industry-sponsored projects can create a better understanding for what engineers do while instilling basic engineering and design principles. Despite the potential benefits outlined above, however, the outcomes of these projects can be mixed in multiple ways.

Mohammed, S., & Okudan, G., & Ogot, M. (2006, June), Tolerance For Ambiguity: An Investigation On Its Effect On Student Design Performance Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--909

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