June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Educational Research and Methods
26.396.1 - 26.396.12
Connections between Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Problem Solving Strategies and Perceptions of Engineering Problems Engineering educators must prepare future engineers for the demanding and dynamicproblems they will face in the field. Effective problem solving skills allow students to handle thecognitive demand of complex problems requiring novel approaches. Prior research has revealedinteractions between students’ future time perspectives (FTP), or how they view long-term goals,and how they define engineering problems, indicating how student action may be driven by theirmotivations. This study assesses problem solving strategies of engineering students to exploreconnections between how students approach an open-ended engineering problem and theirbeliefs about engineering problems. Nine second and third year mechanical and bioengineering students completed semi-structured interviews about their motivation as it relates to future and present goals and activities,and their perceptions and beliefs about what constitutes an engineering problem. Aphenomenological study of the interview data was conducted to characterize students accordingto their FTP’s: well-defined ideal future careers, conflicting ideal and realistic future careers, andno defined future career. These categories also corresponded with students’ perceptions ofengineering problems, going from well-defined and purposeful problems to “anything”,respectively. Seven of these students later completed an open-ended engineering problem and anadditional semi-structured interview. Interviews began with general questions about the problem,then prompted students to walk the interviewers through their problem solution, using thestudents’ own work for stimulated recall. Clarifying questions were asked about their strategiesfor solving the problem and strategies they typically implement when solving engineeringproblems. Student solutions and interviews were recorded using a Livescribe pen. The problem solving interviews were analyzed for strategies using directed contentanalysis based in part on descriptions and categorizations of strategies from prior research inmathematics education. Students’ written work was played back from the pen recording and wasanalyzed using a coding scheme developed specifically for identifying problem solvingprocesses in engineering students’ real time work. One interesting result from this analysis was that students who demonstrated the highestlevel of problem solving strategies were divided into two categories: students who defineengineering problems based on a series of well-defined steps and students who describe anengineering problem as anything. At least one strategy, dimensional analysis, was identified thatmay differentiate engineering problem solving from problem solving in other domains such asmathematics or science.Students’ written data is being integrated with results from the interviews, providing evidencethat supports or contradicts students’ self-reported processes and strategies. This research willprovide valuable insights into to the study of effects on problem solving of student attributes likemotivation, and effects of pedagogical interventions related to problem solving instruction.Furthermore, in-depth studies of engineering students’ problem solving strategies is likely toreveal strategies unique to engineering that could be used to improve problem solving instructionin engineering classrooms.
McGough, C. D., & Kirn, A., & Faber, C. J., & Benson, L. (2015, June), Connections Between Undergraduate Engineering Students’ Problem-solving Strategies and Perceptions of Engineering Problems Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23735
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