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Terra Dusold
MS, Fall 2008

Home Dept: Mechanical Engineering

MS Dissertation title: Applications of narrative to the engineering decision making process and the pedagogy of engineering design

MS Advisor(s): Kenneth Mark Bryden

Area of MS research: Narrative is defined as a basic form of human communication. It is through narrative that humans experience and comprehend life. Using narrative as a tool to improve communication and comprehension requires incorporating several components into a complete narrative structure. The components of a narrative consist of a story; that is, a sequence of events providing chronological order and context to a subject, and a method of discourse; that is, the means in which the story is told. Creating narrative allows for increased cognitive understanding of a subject because it is the way in which we as humans naturally communicate. This paper examines how narrative may be used in engineering decision making. Engineering is a field where data is often presented with little context. This data is difficult to understand at first glance and occasionally requires explanation from experts closest to the data set. Engineering courses are not much different in that students are often faced with computational problems that are taken out of context. Practice in solving problems is necessary; however, these problems are often out of context and use idealized situations, thus hindering students' ability to transfer knowledge to new situations. Using narrative to place problems in a real world context allows the students to experience situations closer to real world working environments. Outside of the engineering classroom, engineers face large amounts of data generated from projects with large design teams. Arranging the data into a narrative by adding layers of context can aid in comprehension of project data and also help bridge communication gaps between multiple engineering disciplines. Engineering groups tend to do this today, and indeed many companies have formalized engineering processes that unknowingly create a narrative. Understanding the nature of narrative can improve these v processes. In addition, engineering software today is like a shattered mosaic of brilliant colors, and building software that brings these pieces of the mosaic into a coherent, integrated picture would significantly benefit the engineering decision making process.

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