Cognitive Diversity and Knowledge Integration in Student Design Teams
This research investigated the influence and relationship of two cognitive diversity frameworks on student design team knowledge integration capabilities and team contribution among seventy-five (75) student teams in Purdue’s Tech 120: Design Thinking in Technology course.
When in cognitively diverse teams, students do not effectively integrate the knowledge available to them. Past research results in this area have further demonstrated that students tend to get worse at collaboration as the cognitive differences emerge and are exposed over time. The costs of this lack of collaboration and assimilation of knowledge assets are significant, such as diminished creativity, coordination, and other team performance measures. The purpose of this study then, was to provide student design teams with models or frameworks for visualizing and understanding the cognitive diversity available to them in their team and test the impact these frameworks have on various measures of team effectiveness: knowledge integration, psychological safety, and individual contribution.
Cognitive diversity frameworks in question have been used successfully in various industry and organizational settings. The first, is the FourSight Thinking Profile™. This framework is used to understand one’s creative problem-solving preferences and how those preferences (high, neutral, and low) impact group dynamics. The second, is the AEM-Cube®. This framework draws on several theoretical foundations to assess an individua’s patterns of thinking and responses to change. Both the FourSight Thinking Profile™ and the AEM-Cube® have shown to help teams in industry settings collaborate (DeCusatis, 2008; Reynolds & Lewis, 2017), but their use in educational settings to solve the knowledge integration and team contribution problem in student teams is untested.
The nearly 470 students in Purdue’s TECH 120 course were organized into teams ranging from 3-5 members by their instructors, thus creating a total of 129 teams. The researcher then divided the 129 teams into two fairly equal treatment groups. Each treatment group was given one of two cognitive diversity assessments (FourSight or AEM-Cube) to complete individually, time to review the results, and then asked to create a team charter or contract where students discussed cognitive strengths and weaknesses and how they planned to manage those assets and deficiencies as they worked on a 4-week long design thinking project. Only 75 teams completed all steps of the treatment (either FourSight or AEM-Cube) and thus were the focus of analysis.
The major conclusions of this study are that while neither the FourSight or AEM-Cube frameworks for cognitive diversity were more effective in raising student knowledge integration capability or overall team contribution, these frameworks did not negatively impact the student experience; high levels of psychological safety were maintained among both more homogeneous teams and those that were more heterogeneous; and higher levels of knowledge integration capabilities and team contribution were achieved by students in varying degrees of diversity of creative problem-solving preferences and strategic agility. While the reason(s) for such high scores for knowledge integration capability, team member contribution, and psychological safety are unknown, the students reported that the processes by which these teams integrated their knowledge assets and solicited the contribution of their team members was both positive and effective.
Further research into the effectiveness of the treatment, the influence of demographic diversities on team functions, and the experience of the 54 student teams that did not complete the treatment are needed to elucidate and understand the findings of this study.