Asee peer logo

A Structured Problem Solving Model For Developing High Level Skills

Download Paper |


2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.102.1 - 6.102.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Terry Armstrong

author page

Paul Rousseau

author page

Katharine Fulcher

author page

Carlo Felicione

author page

Steve Beyerlein

author page

Donald Elger

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session ____

A Structured Problem Solving Model for Developing High-Level Skills Donald F. Elger, Terry R. Armstrong, Steven W. Beyerlein, Carlo F. Felicione, Katharine J. Fulcher, Paul W. Rousseau University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho


In professional practice, engineers commonly solve problems that are highly complex and open- ended. Since good engineering requires high-level thinking, classroom activities should lead students to develop and improve appropriate skills. To foster this aim, we have adapted the Professional Decision Making (PDM) process for application in engineering science courses. The PDM process uses seven basic elements: affirmation, define the situation, state the goal, generate ideas, prepare a plan, take action, and review. Within each element, thinking skills are described using a small number of heuristics. The amount of detail is purposefully limited so that the complete model may be implemented in an engineering science course.

To assess the PDM process, we examined three types of data acquired during a recent implementation in a fluid mechanics course. These data support the hypothesis that the PDM model as described herein (a) promotes effective problem solving, (b) appeals to users, (c) builds skills for professional practice, and (d) promotes communication.


Landis (1995) presents a working definition of problem solving: “… the ability to identify and define a problem, develop and evaluate alternative solutions, and effect one or more designs to solve the problem.” While development of effective problem-solving skills is a primary goal of engineering education, reaching this goal is very challenging. Most engineering science classes require substantial coverage of content, leaving little time for teaching problem solving skills. Moreover, problem solving involves high-level skills, and most students cannot learn these skills in a short time. Another issue is that many students have learned “dead-end” problem solving techniques. That is, they use techniques that are effective for textbook problems, but ineffective for practical problems. Examples of dead-end skills include (a) using example problems as templates, (b) plugging numbers into formulas with little thought of the concepts, and (c) working backwards from known answers.

To address the aforementioned issues, we have developed a model of the problem solving process. This model is designed for application in engineering science courses. The goals are: • Promote effective problem solving (fast, applicable to many types of problems, etc.) • Appeal to users (appeal to a diverse range of students) • Build skills for professional practice (use general principles, develop skills for open-ended problems) • Promote communication (develop professional documentation skills, communicate fundamental steps of problem solving, foster communication in a team environment)

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Armstrong, T., & Rousseau, P., & Fulcher, K., & Felicione, C., & Beyerlein, S., & Elger, D. (2001, June), A Structured Problem Solving Model For Developing High Level Skills Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9803

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2001 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015