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  1. Abstract Existing literature on information sharing in contests has established that sharing contest-specific information influences contestant behaviors, and thereby, the outcomes of a contest. However, in the context of engineering design contests, there is a gap in knowledge about how contest-specific information such as competitors’ historical performance influences designers’ actions and the resulting design outcomes. To address this gap, the objective of this study is to quantify the influence of information about competitors’ past performance on designers’ belief about the outcomes of a contest, which influences their design decisions, and the resulting design outcomes. We focus on a single-stage design competition where an objective figure of merit is available to the contestants for assessing the performance of their design. Our approach includes (i) developing a behavioral model of sequential decision making that accounts for information about competitors’ historical performance and (ii) using the model in conjunction with a human-subject experiment where participants make design decisions given controlled strong or weak performance records of past competitors. Our results indicate that participants spend greater efforts when they know that the contest history reflects that past competitors had a strong performance record than when it reflects a weak performance record. Moreover, we quantify cognitive underpinnings of such informational influence via our model parameters. Based on the parametric inferences about participants’ cognition, we suggest that contest designers are better off not providing historical performance records if past contest outcomes do not match their expectations setup for a given design contest. 
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  2. Abstract Extracting an individual's scientific knowledge is essential for improving educational assessment and understanding cognitive tasks in engineering activities such as reasoning and decision making. However, knowledge extraction is an almost impossible endeavor if the domain of knowledge and the available observational data are unrestricted. The objective of this paper is to quantify individuals' theory-based causal knowledge from their responses to given questions. Our approach uses directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) to represent causal knowledge for a given theory and a graph-based logistic model that maps individuals' question-specific subgraphs to question responses. We follow a hierarchical Bayesian approach to estimate individuals' DAGs from observations.The method is illustrated using 205 engineering students' responses to questions on fatigue analysis in mechanical parts. In our results, we demonstrate how the developed methodology provides estimates of population-level DAG and DAGs for individual students. This dual representation is essential for remediation since it allows us to identify parts of a theory that a population or individual struggles with and parts they have already mastered. An addendum of the method is that it enables predictions about individuals' responses to new questions based on the inferred individual-specific DAGs. The latter has implications for the descriptive modeling of human problem-solving, a critical ingredient in sociotechnical systems modeling. 
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  3. Collecting massive amounts of image data is a common way to record the post-event condition of buildings, to be used by engineers and researchers to learn from that event. Key information needed to interpret the image data collected during these reconnaissance missions is the location within the building where each image was taken. However, image localization is difficult in an indoor environment, as GPS is not generally available because of weak or broken signals. To support rapid, seamless data collection during a reconnaissance mission, we develop and validate a fully automated technique to provide robust indoor localization while requiring no prior information about the condition or spatial layout of an indoor environment. The technique is meant for large-scale data collection across multiple floors within multiple buildings. A systematic method is designed to separate the reconnaissance data into individual buildings and individual floors. Then, for data within each floor, an optimization problem is formulated to automatically overlay the path onto the structural drawings providing robust results, and subsequently, yielding the image locations. The end-to end technique only requires the data collector to wear an additional inexpensive motion camera, thus, it does not add time or effort to the current rapid reconnaissance protocol. As no prior information about the condition or spatial layout of the indoor environment is needed, this technique can be adapted to a large variety of building environments and does not require any type of preparation in the postevent settings. This technique is validated using data collected from several real buildings. 
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  4. Abstract

    Heuristics are essential for addressing the complexities of engineering design processes. The goodness of heuristics is context-dependent. Appropriately tailored heuristics can enable designers to find good solutions efficiently, and inappropriate heuristics can result in cognitive biases and inferior design outcomes. While there have been several efforts at understanding which heuristics are used by designers, there is a lack of normative understanding about when different heuristics are suitable. Towards addressing this gap, this paper presents a reinforcement learning-based approach to evaluate the goodness of heuristics for three sub-problems commonly faced by designers: (1) learning the map between the design space and the performance space, (2) acquiring sequential information, and (3) stopping the information acquisition process. Using a multi-armed bandit formulation and simulation studies, we learn the suitable heuristics for these individual sub-problems under different resource constraints and problem complexities. Additionally, we learn the optimal heuristics for the combined problem (i.e., the one composing all three sub-problems), and we compare them to ones learned at the sub-problem level. The results of our simulation study indicate that the proposed reinforcement learning-based approach can be effective for determining the quality of heuristics for different problems, and how the effectiveness of the heuristics changes as a function of the designer’s preference (e.g., performance versus cost), the complexity of the problem, and the resources available.

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  5. null (Ed.)
  6. Abstract Engineering design involves information acquisition decisions such as selecting designs in the design space for testing, selecting information sources, and deciding when to stop design exploration. Existing literature has established normative models for these decisions, but there is lack of knowledge about how human designers make these decisions and which strategies they use. This knowledge is important for accurately modeling design decisions, identifying sources of inefficiencies, and improving the design process. Therefore, the primary objective in this study is to identify models that provide the best description of a designer’s information acquisition decisions when multiple information sources are present and the total budget is limited. We conduct a controlled human subject experiment with two independent variables: the amount of fixed budget and the monetary incentive proportional to the saved budget. By using the experimental observations, we perform Bayesian model comparison on various simple heuristic models and expected utility (EU)-based models. As expected, the subjects’ decisions are better represented by the heuristic models than the EU-based models. While the EU-based models result in better net payoff, the heuristic models used by the subjects generate better design performance. The net payoff using heuristic models is closer to the EU-based models in experimental treatments where the budget is low and there is incentive for saving the budget. This indicates the potential for nudging designers’ decisions toward maximizing the net payoff by setting the fixed budget at low values and providing monetary incentives proportional to saved budget. 
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  7. null (Ed.)

    Extracting an individual’s knowledge structure is a challenging task as it requires formalization of many concepts and their interrelationships. While there has been significant research on how to represent knowledge to support computational design tasks, there is limited understanding of the knowledge structures of human designers. This understanding is necessary for comprehension of cognitive tasks such as decision making and reasoning, and for improving educational programs. In this paper, we focus on quantifying theory-based causal knowledge, which is a specific type of knowledge held by human designers. We develop a probabilistic graph-based model for representing individuals’ concept-specific causal knowledge for a given theory. We propose a methodology based on probabilistic directed acyclic graphs (DAGs) that uses logistic likelihood function for calculating the probability of a correct response. The approach involves a set of questions for gathering responses from 205 engineering students, and a hierarchical Bayesian approach for inferring individuals’ DAGs from the observed responses. We compare the proposed model to a baseline three-parameter logistic (3PL) model from the item response theory. The results suggest that the graph-based logistic model can estimate individual students’ knowledge graphs. Comparisons with the 3PL model indicate that knowledge assessment is more accurate when quantifying knowledge at the level of causal relations than quantifying it using a scalar ability parameter. The proposed model allows identification of parts of the curriculum that a student struggles with and parts they have already mastered which is essential for remediation.

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