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Board 15: Understanding Ambiguity in Engineering Problem Solving

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Conference

2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

12

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/32267

Download Count

90

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Paper Authors

biography

Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Professor of Environmental Engineering Sciences,Associate Director for Research of the Institute for Excellence in Engineering Education, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. His research interests are in the areas of problem-solving, cultures of inclusion in engineering, engineering ethics, and environmental justice.

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David J. Therriault University of Florida

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Dr. Therriault, an Assistant Professor joined the College of Education at University of Florida in 2004. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of New Hampshire and his M. A. and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Therriault’s primary research interests include the representation of text in memory, comprehending time and space in language, the link between attention and intelligence, the use of perceptual symbols in language, and educational issues related to these topics.

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Marah B. Berry University of Florida

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Marah Berry is a first year PhD student at the University of Florida studying Environmental Engineering. Her research focuses on ambiguity in problem solving. Her interest for problem solving began while she obtained her M.E. in Systems Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University.

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Abstract

Engineers are often faced with complex, unique, and challenging problems. Although a core activity of engineering is being able to solve complex problems efficiently and effectively, most engineering problems contain ambiguous elements. Engineers that are confident handling ambiguity are needed to solve real-world problems. Within the literature, engineering problems are typically characterized as either well-structured or ill-structured. Ambiguity, if it is mentioned at all in the problem characterization, goes undefined. Another issue is that ambiguity has only been identified as a structural element of the problem, ignoring how problem solvers may experience ambiguity differently in the same problem. Without a better understanding of ambiguity in problem solving, it is difficult to develop educational approaches that will teach students how to deal with ambiguity.

The goal of this project is to understand the different ways that students and practicing engineers experience ambiguity during problem solving. We aim to interview 20-30 senior civil engineering students and 20-30 practicing civil engineers on their experiences of ambiguity. Interviews will be conducted using artifact elicitation, in which each participant will bring a problem they have encountered which they consider to have been ambiguous. Interviews will be analyzed using phenomenography, leading to outcome spaces that define a hierarchy of ways that each group experiences ambiguity. These outcome spaces will then be used to develop a taxonomy of ambiguity that can be used in future studies of engineering problem solving. Ultimately, we aim to provide better tool kits, instructional materials, and methods for teaching students to solve ambiguous engineering problems.

Douglas, E. P., & Therriault, D. J., & Berry, M. B. (2019, June), Board 15: Understanding Ambiguity in Engineering Problem Solving Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/32267

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