Problem-solving interactions in the collaborative discourse of engineering design: a descriptive framework and three applications

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Carpenter, Mark Allan

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The purpose of this study is to develop a framework whereby a systematic approach can be applied to the description and study of problem-solving discourse between engineers in the early definitional stages of design projects. The framework is applied to the de- scription of discourse within three teams of student electrical and computer engineers working in two-person teams to define and plan solutions to complex design problems. The framework helps in the understanding of how certain team-member properties (differences in partner preferences for cognitive and communicative tasks) and perceptions of team and individual performance (differences in partner satisfaction with the cognitive and communicative aspects of their team project) relate to the cooperative patterns that appear in team problem-solving discourse. Questionnaires are used to obtain taskpreference and project-satisfaction data for each team member and to generate profiles that highlight the differences between team members. To identify cooperative patterns, discourse analyses are performed on transcriptions of team dialogue. By taking entire teams and not merely the individuals that compose them as the units of analysis, the study provides insights into how fundamental differences between team members relate to the qualities of problem-solving discourse and how the qualities of team discourse relate to project satisfaction. Such insights may be helpful to instructors of technicalcommunication courses who want to incorporate problem- or project-oriented activities to their class activities and seek the conceptual tools to interpret the collaborative behaviors they observe.