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Work in Progress: Cognitive Competencies Within Systems Thinking in the Design of Biological Systems

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Systems Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

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Paper Authors


Ruben D. Lopez-Parra Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE)

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Ruben D. Lopez-Parra is a graduate research assistant at Purdue University pursuing a Ph.D. in Engineering Education. Previously, he worked as a Natural Science teacher in High School where he, as a scholarly teacher, constantly assessed his performance to design better learning environments that promote students’ conceptual understanding. In 2015, Ruben earned an M.S in Chemical Engineering at Universidad de los Andes in Colombia where he also received the title of Chemical Engineer in 2012. His research interests include cognition and metacognition in the engineering curriculum.

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Tamara J. Moore Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE) Orcid 16x16

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Tamara J. Moore, Ph.D., is a Professor in the School of Engineering Education and Interim Director of the INSPIRE Research Institute for Precollege Engineering at Purdue University. Dr. Moore’s research is centered on the integration of STEM concepts in K-12 and postsecondary classrooms in order to help students make connections among the STEM disciplines and achieve deep understanding. Her work focuses on defining STEM integration and investigating its power for student learning.

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The International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition is a worldwide synthetic biology event where pre-college and college students design, build and test biological systems to address societal needs. Designing a biological system requires a good development of engineering systems thinking, especially due to living organisms' complex behavior. According to the Capacity for Engineering Systems Thinking (CEST) model, good systems thinkers need to understand the whole system and the interconnection of its parts, consider non-engineering factors, and understand analogies and parallelisms between systems, among other cognitive competencies. For this study, we are interested in analyzing how iGEM participants exhibit cognitive competencies. Particularly, we aim to answer the research question: What evidence of cognitive competencies within engineering systems thinking exists when multidisciplinary teams design a biological system to address a societal need? We followed a Qualitative Descriptive Research approach to analyze the artifacts (team's wikis) of six teams from different countries. All teams were comprised mostly of undergraduate engineering students from multiple disciplines and recognized for their designed biological system's quality. For this work in progress, we shared our initial framework to explore the systems thinking cognitive competencies of iGEM participants, open coded the content of one of the wikis, and presented some preliminary evidence of the competencies. Through continuing research, we will further explore systems thinking in biological systems design by analyzing the remainder of the six teams’ wikis.

Lopez-Parra, R. D., & Moore, T. J. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Cognitive Competencies Within Systems Thinking in the Design of Biological Systems Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--38128

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