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CU Thinking: Problem-Solving Strategies Revealed

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.405.1 - 22.405.8



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Paper Authors


Lisa Benson Clemson University

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Lisa C. Benson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Bioengineering. Dr. Benson teaches first year engineering, undergraduate research methods, and graduate engineering education courses. Her research interests include student-centered active learning in undergraduate engineering, assessment of motivation, and how motivation affects student learning. She is also involved in projects that utilize Tablet PCs to enhance student learning. Her education includes a B.S. in Bioengineering from the University of Vermont, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Bioengineering from Clemson University.

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Sarah Jane Grigg Clemson University

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David R. Bowman Clemson University

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Michelle Cook Clemson University


Roy P. Pargas Clemson University / U.S .Air Force Academy

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Dr. Roy Pargas is an Associate Professor in the Division of Human Centered Computing within the School of Computing at Clemson University. In the current 2010 - 2011 school year, he is on sabbatical as the Coleman-Richardson Chair for Computer Sciences at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. He teaches undergraduate and graduate computer science courses. One of his research areas is in the development of software tools for teaching. Three such tools use the natural writing features of Tablet PCs to facilitate teaching in chemistry, in algebra and calculus, and in freshman engineering. He is co-Principal Investigator on three active NSF grants supporting this research efforts. Moreover, in collaboration with Iowa State University and George Mason University, he is co-Principal Investigator on an active Department of Education grant the goal of which is to develop software tools helping seventh and eighth grade math teachers monitor student progress and teaching effectiveness.

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CU Thinking: Problem-Solving Strategies RevealedIn order to analyze engineering students’ problem-solving strategies, we are collecting workcompleted on Tablet PCs and analyzing the digital ink using “tags” to identify events of interestusing custom-designed software called MuseInk. The work collected includes problems in a firstyear engineering course specifically selected for their level of complexity, potential for multipleapproaches or representations, and the level of structure and/or definition provided. A “TagUniverse,” a database of procedural events, errors, and other items of interest, has beendeveloped to tag relevant events within student work. The Tag Universe is organized intocategories based on a theoretical framework of process activities used during problem solving:knowledge access, knowledge generation and self-management. Tags include items such assketching the problem, identifying known and unknown values, manipulating an equation tosolve for a desired variable, and checking the reasonableness of a solution. In addition, studenterrors are categorized (conceptual, procedural, and mechanical), and students’ recognition oftheir errors are being analyzed based on signal detection theory. This identifies “hits” (studentmakes an error and self-corrects), “misses” (student makes an error and does not recognize it)and “false alarms” (student second-guesses a correct approach). MuseInk also allows theinsertion of audio tags to document students’ verbal commentaries about what they werethinking when specific events occurred.One of three problem sets has been tagged by our research team, and inter-rater reliabilityanalysis was conducted to ensure consistent tagging. Tag data (written and verbal) are beinganalyzed in terms of relationships between tag categories and students’ academic backgroundsand prior knowledge about engineering. We are beginning to define criteria for structuringproblems to allow students from a broad array of prior educational experiences and academicpreparation to develop effective and transferrable problem-solving skills.While our methods are evolving which use MuseInk as a research tool, we are also consideringhow the software is being used as an instructional tool. A user survey was implemented toidentify ways to increase benefits to students using MuseInk. Activities using MuseInk bothinside and outside the classroom are being developed based on survey data, such as tutorials andpeer feedback.

Benson, L., & Grigg, S. J., & Bowman, D. R., & Cook, M., & Pargas, R. P. (2011, June), CU Thinking: Problem-Solving Strategies Revealed Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17686

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