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Engineering Students’ Experiences of Workplace Problem Solving

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Cooperative & Experiential Education Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.505.1 - 24.505.23



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Paper Authors

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Rui Pan Purdue University, West Lafayette


Johannes Strobel Texas A&M University

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Dr. Johannes Strobel is Director, Educational Outreach Programs and Associate Professor, Engineering and Education at Texas A&M. After studying philosophy and information science at three universities in Germany, he received his M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He worked at Concordia University, Montreal and has been the director of the Institute of P-12 Engineering Research and Learning at Purdue University. NSF and several private foundations fund his research. His research and teaching focuses on engineering as an innovation in P-12 education, policy of P-12 engineering, how to support teachers and students' academic achievements through engineering, the measurement and support of the change of 'engineering habits of mind' particularly empathy and the use of cyber-infrastructure to sensitively and resourcefully provide access to and support learning.

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Monica E. Cardella Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Monica E. Cardella is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education and an Affiliate of the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. She is the Director of the MEDLEE (Mathematics and Engineering Design Learning Environments and Experiences) Research Group. She has a BSc in Mathematics from the University of Puget Sound and an MS and PhD in Industrial Engineering from the University of Washington. Her research focuses on: engineering design education; mathematical thinking in engineering; parents' roles in engineering education; and engineering learning in informal environments.

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Engineering Students’ Experiences of Workplace Problem SolvingWorkplace problems are different from traditional textbook or classroom problems because theyare ill-structured and complex in nature. Research shows that engineers need a wide range ofknowledge and skills in order to succeed in workplace problem solving. However, it is unclearhow engineering students, who will become professionals in the workplace after graduation,experience real world engineering problem solving. Motivated by a desire to better understandengineering problems and prepare students for engineering practice, this study aims to explorestudents’ experiences of workplace problems solving.As previous research points out that educational programs such as the Co-Op program provideopportunities for students to observe and experience engineering in the workplace and preparethem with workplace competencies, in this study, we interviewed 22 engineering Co-Op studentsabout their problem solving experiences in the Co-Op program and explored: what are thedifferent ways in which Co-Op students experience workplace problem solving? In order toanswer this question, we conducted a phenomenographic analysis on our interview transcripts tocapture the variation in students’ experiences. The analysis results show that studentsexperienced workplace problem solving in six different ways, which are: 1) workplace problemsolving is following orders and executing the plan; 2) workplace problem solving isimplementing customers’ ideas and satisfying customers’ needs; 3) workplace problem solving isusing mathematical and technical knowledge and skills to solve technical problems; 4)workplace problem solving is consulting different people and collecting their inputs; 5)workplace problem solving is using multiple resources to draw conclusions and make decisions;6) workplace problem solving is exploration and freedom. Further analysis of the relationshipbetween six ways of experiencing workplace problem solving resulted in a two-dimensionaloutcome space (see figure 1). The horizontal axis represents an increased student involvement inproblem definition and formulation and the vertical axis represents an increased studentinvolvement in solution generation and selection. It became evident that the six categoriesformed a hierarchical relationship based on the extent to which students are involved in problemdefinition and formulation and the extent to which students are involved in solution generationand selection.Findings of this study will help engineering educators better understand the nature of problemsolving and how students solve problems in the workplace. The results could also serve asguidelines for the design of problem solving experiences for engineering undergraduate students.Figure 1 Two Dimensional Outcome Space

Pan, R., & Strobel, J., & Cardella, M. E. (2014, June), Engineering Students’ Experiences of Workplace Problem Solving Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20396

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