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When Conflict Helps Learning

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Tools of Teaching and Learning

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.1307.1 - 8.1307.20



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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth Davis

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David Socha

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Valentin Razmov

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

Session 1531

When Conflict Helps Learning David Socha†§, Valentin Razmov§, Elizabeth Davis † Center for Urban Simulation and Policy Analysis § Department of Computer Science & Engineering University of Washington


We describe techniques, implemented in a junior software engineering course, for creating an environment of safety and for regulating the amount of conflict so that students can learn how to use conflict to benefit their learning and the project instead of being overwhelmed or discouraged by it.

Intra-personal and inter-personal conflict, such as internal uncertainty, dissonance between one’s desires and abilities, and perceptions of problems in other people, are inevitable in our lives and jobs. Learning to deal effectively with these conflicts is essential to becoming an effective engineer. This starts with realizing that there can be value in conflict. Conflict motivates learning because people do not like to repeat frustrating, embarrassing, or painful experiences. Conflict inspires innovation by illuminating areas of misunderstanding, invalid assumptions, personality or value differences that, when explored, can result in greater value to everyone involved.

To maximize learning, it is important to balance conflict with safety. Too much or the wrong type of conflict can be detrimental to learning. The techniques we used, some of them borrowed from professional leadership training programs, had a positive impact on the students, as revealed by their weekly reflective essays and by individual communication with them during and after the course. Students, perhaps subconsciously, created conflicts that enabled them to learn lessons they needed to learn.

One aspect of safety is how to limit the damage of mistakes while encouraging learning from mistakes. To that end, we chose not to have a real-world customer whose dependence on the project success would have increased the damage from a potential project failure. Our focus was on the learning – in the true spirit of academia – in order to prepare students for successful engineering careers.

1. Introduction

Seeing conflict as an opportunity to create art from our very being is a challenge for the artist in all of us. Our lives are not dependent on whether or not we have conflict. It is what we do with conflict that makes the difference.1 Thomas F. Crum

The beneficial role of inner conflict in helping learning and as a source of innovation is not a new concept1, 3. However, it does appear to be an uncommon and thus a largely unadopted view

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2003, American Society of Engineering Education

Davis, E., & Socha, D., & Razmov, V. (2003, June), When Conflict Helps Learning Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11893

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