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Using Conceptual Mapping to Help Retain Tribal Knowledge

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

INDUSTRY DAY: Industry-Focused Collaboration Techniques

Tagged Division

College Industry Partnerships

Tagged Topic

Corporate Member Council

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Paper Authors


Yuetong Lin Indiana State University

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Yuetong Lin received the Ph.D. degree in Systems and Industrial Engineering from the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 2005. He joined Indiana State University in Terre Haute, in 2005, and is currently an Associate Professor of electronics and computer engineering technology

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A. Mehran Shahhosseini Indiana State University

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A. Mehran Shahhosseini is an Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology
Management at Indiana State University. He has published over 45 articles in different journals and conference proceedings. He has served as an investigator for research projects sponsored by National Science Foundation, Ford Motor Company, and the US Army. Before working at Indiana State University, he was a faculty
in the University of Louisville for 10 years. He also has over four years of industrial experience.
He received his D.Eng. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lamar University (USA) in 1999, M.Sc. in Materials Engineering from Isfahan University of Technology (Iran) in 1991, and B.Sc. in Metallurgical Engineering from Tehran University (Iran) in 1988. He is a member of ASEE, ASME, SAE, and ATMAE.

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M. Affan Badar Indiana State University Orcid 16x16

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M. Affan Badar, PhD is a Professor in Applied Engineering & Technology Management Department at Indiana State University. He received a Ph.D. degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Oklahoma, M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, and M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering and B.Sc. (Hons.) in Mechanical Engineering from Aligarh Muslim University. Dr. Badar has published more than 45 articles in refereed journals and proceedings in the areas of coordinate metrology, lean manufacturing, health care, energy system design

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W. Tad Foster Indiana State University

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Dr. W. Tad Foster is currently a Professor in the Department of Human Resource Development and Performance Technology at Indiana State University. From 1998 to 2009, he served as ISU’s Dean of the College of Technology. He has been an educator for over fourty years and has taught at the secondary, technical institute, community college, and university levels.

Dr. Foster earned his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Illinois in Technology Education with secondary emphasis in Counseling Psychology. His research and writing are in the areas of learning theory, organizational and personal change, educational technology from a cognitive psychology perspective, instructional design, and total quality management.

Dr. Foster has numerous publications and is a regular presenter at state, national, and international conferences. In addition, he is a reviewer for the Human Resource Development Review, the Human Resource Development Quarterly, and the Journal for Technology Education.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Dr. Foster is President of Foster and Associate, through which he consults regularly in business and industry in the areas of training, facilitation, strategic planning, quality, team dynamics, organizational change, and technical problem solving.

Dr. Foster is a certified flight instructor, and a master woodworker. He is an avid reader and regularly writes (sometimes even publishes) poetry. He is married with two children (a son and daughter) and two grandsons.

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Jason C. Dean Indiana State University

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Mr. Jason C. Dean currently serves as a lecturer for the Human Resource Development and Performance Technologies department in the College of Technology at Indiana State University. He holds a Master of Science in Human Resource Development as well as a Master of Business Administration and worked for many years in logistics, sales, and the financial services industry prior to entering academia. Mr. Dean has authored numerous publications while presenting regularly at national and international conferences. In addition to research and teaching, he functions as the entrepreneurial lead for the current project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In this role, Mr. Dean assists the research team by offering entrepreneurial consultation, and served as the spokesperson for the group’s presentations at the NSF sponsored Innovation Corps for Learning (I-Corps L) program last summer in Washington D.C. As a result, the research team was able to successfully demonstrate that the diagnostic skills training program developed during the original NSF grant could be viable and sustainable as a business training service for private industry.

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“Tribal knowledge” is a terminology commonly used in industry to describe special knowledge procured by only a handful of employees. These employees are usually senior personnel in the quality, maintenance, or control department in the organization, who have acquired expertise on a equipment, system, or process over an extended period, sometimes decades. To capture and transform this unique expertise into company’s own knowledge base, or even intellectual property, is critical for company’s sustainable growth.

With the guidance of ASEE, we as a NSF I-Corps L team conducted interviews for over 100 clients in order to discover opportunities to scale a prior NSF project on improving technology/engineering undergraduates’ diagnostic skills. A significant revelation from this customer discovery is that most of the companies admit both the potential pitfalls of, and the need to retain tribal knowledge. However, there does not seem to be a good tool and mature method that is both cost-effective and easy to implement.

The loss of tribal knowledge is particularly detrimental to small businesses. Comparing to their corporate counterparts, these companies cannot afford to prioritize addressing tribal knowledge problem. On one hand, they lack a rigorous process based on established quality standard such as ISO-9000 to document and maintain the record systematically. On the other hand, the companies usually do not have in place a good succession plan or training program for new or junior workers. Therefore, if one senior employee, whose working knowledge has not been properly retained, left the company, the loss of expertise can affect the entire business/manufacturing operation, sometimes can lead to more severe consequences.

Tribal knowledge is often connected to system troubleshooting and maintenance, and has impact on reducing system downtime, improving productivity, and providing better training to new hires. Conceptual mapping is well-recognized approach that uses both content knowledge and process knowledge to prompt users to create visual (concept) maps of a diagnostic strategy to identify technical problems in complex technical systems. In this paper, we will show a framework based on concept mapping that helps archive the tribal knowledge and provide more agile training tools for new employees. We also will introduce modules developed under this framework to demonstrate its application in power and manufacturing sectors.

Lin, Y., & Shahhosseini, A. M., & Badar, M. A., & Foster, W. T., & Dean, J. C. (2016, June), Using Conceptual Mapping to Help Retain Tribal Knowledge Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27141

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