Teaching social complexity and multidisciplinary team building: An experimental engineering approach

Craig Laramee*, Shelley Dionne, Hiroki Sayama, David Wilson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Numerous organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and the National Academy of Engineering have placed an emphasis on the need to better prepare engineering and science professionals to work successfully within the team-based structures of today's organizations. Additionally, engineering curriculum experts have called for the inclusion of leadership and managerial decision making training for engineers within graduate and undergraduate programs. To address this need, we have developed lecture and laboratory material that directly examines the social and political aspects of engineering through the use of experimentation, data analysis, and computer simulation. This material was used in a new interdisciplinary junior level course with approximately 30 students from a wide range of disciplines. Using a modular format we examined concepts of collective intelligence, evolutionary product design and problem solving, game theory, collaborative problem solving, and social networks. The understanding of these concepts was reenforced using interactive simulations and game play with immediate feedback and discussion. This was facilitated using a hand held wireless computer mediated communication (CMC) system that enabled synchronous participation of students in traditional decision theory games and exercises. This system allowed us to capture, in real time, individual, team, and class level outcomes that assisted in the evaluation of important considerations in complex social systems and better reinforcement of group dynamic theory and leader emergence. Preliminary results indicate that using this material, students developed a better understanding of the factors that lead to effective multidisciplinary teams. Additionally, analysis of student feedback identified key areas to improve laboratory exercises but also suggests that students find the activity periods not only enjoyable but also effective at developing a deeper understanding of concepts.

Original languageEnglish
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes
Event2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: 2009 Jun 142009 Jun 17

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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