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Organizing to solve complex problems Joel M. Smith Carnegie Mellon University.

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Presentation on theme: "Organizing to solve complex problems Joel M. Smith Carnegie Mellon University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Organizing to solve complex problems Joel M. Smith Carnegie Mellon University

2 “The need for inter-disciplinary approaches has increased tremendously. The problem frankly is, although we have been discussing it for 40 years, collectively we never seem to get it right.... If we could come up with a series of distilled lessons learned, principles, and action steps that could be taken, then I think we could make tremendous progress.” Alan Leshner, CEO AAAS (2011)

3 A framework for discussing inter-disciplinary education and research:

4 Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary Problems defined by a discipline to advance knowledge in the discipline Problems defined by a discipline that require input from other disciplines Complex real world problems that require integrated solutions

5 Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary Search algorithms Data security Improving the quality of life with technology Models of human memory Identifying the neural bases of cognition Creating more effective learning strategies

6 Examples from Carnegie Mellon Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary Computer Science Department Cyber security Lab The Quality of Life Technology Center

7 Examples from Carnegie Mellon Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary Psychology Department Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition The Simon Initiative

8 Principle #1 Multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research and education arises from a shared, sustained belief among the participants that learning objectives cannot be achieved or problems solved without taking such an approach.

9 Lesson Learned #1 – The pull of the discipline is strong Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary “Andrew Project” at Carnegie Mellon Peer education

10 “Andrew Project” at Carnegie Mellon Peer education Pure Technology tools “Andrew Project” at Carnegie Mellon Lesson Learned #1 – The pull of the discipline Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary

11 Principle #2 Efforts to solve well-defined, real-world problems are what sustain multi- and inter- disciplinary efforts.

12 Organization around real-world problems – QoLT Center Improve driving safety of older drivers. Provide older humans meaningful, context- appropriate cognitive assistance in navigating their world.

13 Lesson Learned #2 – Have a tactical plan to deal with “drift” Sciences of Learning Center Effective Instruction Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary

14 Effective Instruction Cognitive Science Social Communi -cation Computer Modeling Data Mining Design

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17 Principle #3 Concentrating on removing barriers to a diversity of faculty and students working together and focusing rewards on providing solutions to complex problems allows inter- disciplinary efforts to grow "bottom up."

18 Or as Randy Pausch put it: “The sane universities never went near this stuff, but Carnegie Mellon gave us explicit license to break the mold.” Pausch, Randy; Jeffrey Zaslow, The Last Lecture

19 Lesson Learned #3 Carnegie Mellon's tolerance for the creation of “institutes” or “centers” exploring multi- and inter-disciplinary efforts led to a culture of such projects.

20 We don’t have the time, but... Center for Behavioral Decision Research Center for Risk Perception and Communication iLab – Inter-disciplinary IT, Policy, and Management Research CyLab Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition Center for Advanced Process Decision Making

21 Robotics Institute Human-Computer Interaction Institute Entertainment Technology Center Center for Arts in Society Center for Ethics and Policy Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center for the Design of Educational Computing Center for International Relations and Politics

22 Center for Computational Biology Center for Manufacturing Decision Systems Center for Sensed Critical Infrastructure Information Networking Institute Integrated Innovation Institute Institute for Complex Engineered Systems National Robotics Information Center Software Engineering Institute

23 Instruction: course topics and design Disciplinary Multi- disciplinary Inter- disciplinary History of American Novel Dissenters and Believers: Romanticism, Radicalism, and Religiosity, Digital Literary and Cultural Studies: Six Degrees of Francis Bacon

24 “As students work in teams to turn unstructured historical data from the age of Shakespeare, Bacon, and Galileo into presentable network visualizations, participants will decide what counts as data, write standards for inclusion and exclusion, design media, develop prototypes, and present findings.”

25 Principle #4 Problem based learning is an effective strategy for encouraging inter-disciplinary learning.

26 Lesson Learned #4 Project-based courses and research projects foster an inter-disciplinary approach to problem solving and knowledge organization.

27 Building Virtual Worlds

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29 Lesson Learned #5 Unanticipated barriers to inter-disciplinary work arise from the fact that it must be a collaboration among human beings.

30 Our “patron saint” always advocated collaborative design and delivery of instruction “Improvement in post- secondary education will require converting teaching from a ‘solo sport’ to a community-based research activity.” Herbert Simon

31 No problem, higher education is collaborative right?

32 Well…maybe not entirely “…collaboration is not widespread in the academy…higher education institutions are generally organized in departmental silos and bureaucratic or hierarchical administrative structures….the culture of the academy reinforces individual work.” Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration Kenzar and Lester (2009)

33 Open Learning Initiative (OLI) Content experts (faculty) Learning scientists Human-computer interaction experts Design experts Software engineers Assessment experts Students

34 Specifics on Collaboration from the OLI Experience – Principle #5 A collaboration is sustained only if there is explicit and continued agreement about: Who brings what expertise to the collaboration Decision making procedures How progress is measured How credit and rewards will be given

35 Principle #6 Achieving integrated solutions to complex problems through inter-disciplinary work requires stepping out of one’s disciplinary comfort zone and tolerance for colleagues who are stepping into yours.

36 Deep collaboration requires: Respect for the expertise and efforts of all the members of the partnership Frank and sometimes awkward conversations Resisting the natural urge: “This would go faster and better if I just did it myself.” Daily maintenance Lessons Learned #6 +

37 Is it “worth” the effort? I don’t think there is an alternative given the complexity of problems we face. But Alan Leshner is right, we can only do this collectively and only if we share principles, lessons learned, and action steps.


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