UMR researcher wins NSF ‘early career’ award
Dr. Ray Luechtefeld, assistant professor of engineering management at the University of Missouri-Rolla, is among this year’s recipients of the National Science Foundation CAREER awards.
The NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program offers NSF’s most prestigious award for new faculty members, supporting the early career development activities of those teacher-scholars who are considered most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.
Luechtefeld will receive a five-year grant of $524,624 to support further research in facilitation theory and team skill education for engineering students. The result, Luechtefeld says, will be the development of a virtual facilitator, a software program that will help students, engineers and business people improve team skills and make better decisions.
Luechtefeld already has demonstrated that fairly simple interventions in a conversation can significantly improve team performance. “An experiment involving more than 100 student teams working in a problem-solving simulation showed that exposure to these interventions improved team performance by a statistically significant amount,” he says. “Teams exposed to the interventions shared information more effectively and came up with win-win solutions more readily than teams not exposed to the interventions.”
Research under the new grant will continue the development and assessment of the virtual facilitator. Luechtefeld plans to collaborate with artificial intelligence researchers on campus and expert facilitators to improve the system. He will also work with a variety of faculty at UMR and Stephens College to evaluate the effects of the system on team performance and student learning. The goal will be to help engineering students learn team skills while, at the same time, advancing research in team dynamics and facilitation.
The idea of using a facilitator, someone who keeps meetings moving and makes sure ideas aren’t lost, isn’t new. In fact, Luechtefeld took note of the interaction patterns used by renowned Harvard organizational theorist Dr. Chris Argyris as well as expert facilitators when he developed the prototype software. Although hiring a skilled facilitator is probably best, Luechtefeld points out that the $1,000- to $3,000-per-day price tag is not affordable for most.
“As speech recognition capabilities mature and people become increasingly connected through cell phones and the web, this technology will enable people to get help with vexing ‘people problems’ anytime, anywhere,” says Luechtefeld, who has applied for a patent on the system. “The possibilities are endless.”
Besides decision-making and knowledge sharing, application areas include conflict resolution, negotiation, team learning, change management, motivation, and leadership skills.