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Using Problem Solving Preferences To Promote Teaming In A Mechanical Systems Design Course

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Systems Design

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.1420.1 - 10.1420.11



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Paper Authors

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James Widmann

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

Using Problem Solving Preferences to Promote Teaming in a Mechanical Systems Design Course

James M. Widmann California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, CA


At California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Mechanical Engineering students are required to take a course in Mechanical Systems Design. It is a junior level course where students learn the fundamentals of machine components (gears, bearings, screws, etc); furthermore, the students gain experience in the integration of these components into complex Mechanical Systems during a weekly 3-hr laboratory. During the laboratory portion, the students work in teams to solve open ended design projects. Two projects are given during the quarter. For the first project, the students work in teams of three to develop and build a mechanical system to accomplish a simple task. During the second, a “paper” design of a more complex system is completed. The second project is accomplished by dividing the task into subsystems which are designed by teams of four. Each team of four is then required to select a representative to insure successful integration of the final system with other teams. Team formation is based on the student’s problem solving preferences in a manner devised by Prof. Douglas Wilde of Stanford University. This paper will examine the success of this team forming strategy not only from the standpoint of quality of design produced but also by team member’s satisfaction. The success of the three-person and four-person teams at performing the design tasks is evaluated. Assessment of the design quality is both quantitative in terms of measurable performance as well as qualitative. Assessment of team satisfaction is primarily through student survey feedback.


A common problem facing engineering educators who teach courses involving design teams is how to quickly group the students into effective teams. This problem can be further compounded in teaching systems design courses where it may be desirable to have various teams interact to design a complex system through the breakdown of tasks into subsystem design problems. In this scenario “weak” teams can lesson the effectiveness of the integration task. Levi and Clem1 show that effective and successful teams generally benefit from a number of factors including organization support, good technical and social (including interpersonal and teaming) skills of the group members and team relations with the organization in which they operate. In the context of a 10 week course in mechanical design it is easy to provide the organizational support necessary for team success; however there is often little time for educating team members in teaming skills, leaving faculty the task of forming student teams quickly so the

“Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright ©2005, American Society for Engineering Education”

Widmann, J. (2005, June), Using Problem Solving Preferences To Promote Teaming In A Mechanical Systems Design Course Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15008

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