New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Educational Research and Methods
A great deal of work has been done to study the types of problems posed to students in various disciplines and student problem solving skills within a specific undergraduate course. When examined across an entire undergraduate curriculum, the issue of problem solving is complicated by two factors. First, many adult development theories hold that a typical person’s higher-level reasoning skills, including the capacity for abstraction, are not innate until they have reached their mid-twenties or later. Second, the types of problems asked in disciplinary courses within a particular discipline evolve from those that require the understanding of a few principles or the mastery of a few approaches to more complex problems that require students to abstract the specific problem onto one or more generalized problems and then translate the techniques and results from the generalized problem back to the problem at hand. We hypothesize that students who are proficient at abstraction possess two capacities that are used when solving complex problems: 1) they are able to hold multiple abstractions in their minds and manipulate them, and 2) they apply rationales for determining which abstractions are valuable to make. We further hypothesize that a typical undergraduate electrical engineering curriculum has an abstraction threshold at which point a typical student’s innate capacity for abstraction is not matched to the complexity of the problems being posed and that this threshold impacts student performance.
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