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Evaluating and Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills in a Physiology Course for Biomedical Engineering Students (Work in Progress)

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Biomedical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.690.1 - 26.690.5



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Paper Authors


Reva E Johnson MS Northwestern University Orcid 16x16

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Reva Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering, and is completing her doctoral research in the Center for Bionic Medicine at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Her research interests include learning and adaptation during prosthesis control, human-machine interfaces, and STEM education.

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Robert A Linsenmeier Northwestern University

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Robert Linsenmeier is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Neurobiology, and Ophthalmology. His interests are in the microenvironment of the mammalian retina and engineering education. His teaching is primarily in physiology for both biology and BME majors. He is a fellow if the Biomedical Engineering Society, American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, and Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.

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Evaluating and enhancing problem-solving skills in a Physiology course for Biomedical Engineering students (Work in Progress)Biomedical engineers need to solve problems systematically, but the necessary skills are notoften explicitly taught or evaluated. Instead, problem-solving strategies are assessedsimultaneously with content knowledge. Students often feel uncomfortable when faced withproblems that give too little or too much information, and have trouble making appropriatesimplifications, assumptions, and estimations. To overcome this barrier, they need a great deal ofpractice and feedback.In this preliminary work, we implemented new teaching methods and evaluations that focused onproblem-solving skills in a junior-level physiology course for biomedical engineering students.First, we centered a discussion section on a multi-step word problem unrelated to course content.The unfamiliar problem separated problem-solving skills from content material and allowedstudents to focus on the problem-solving process, which was then explicitly discussed. Apreliminary analysis of students’ strengths and weaknesses in this process will be discussed.Second, we devoted several follow-up discussion sections to guided multi-step problems thatincorporated course content material—a departure from previous years in which homework wasdiscussed by teaching assistants, but students received insufficient practice in working with thematerial. These sessions gave students problem-solving practice in small groups with immediatefeedback available from teaching assistants. Third, we obtained data on students' attitudestowards problem-solving and their perceived education on problem-solving. We found that overhalf of students agreed or strongly agreed that the initial discussion of problem-solving wasuseful, and that they were interested in seeing how other students approached the problem.Almost 30% of students reported that they had never discussed problem-solving strategies inprevious courses. About 67% of the students reported that solving additional problems indiscussion section was important or very important to their learning. This approach to problemsolving in a physiology lecture course can also improve teaching by the graduate teachingassistants assigned to discussion section by facilitating the organization and planning.In next year’s course, we will assess students’ problem-solving skills before and after the initialdiscussion section on a problem unrelated to course content. The assessments will include moredetailed qualitative analysis of diagrams, estimations, and assumptions, as well as quantitativeanalysis of answers at each step. We will also evaluate students’ attitudes towards problem-solving and metacognition of problem-solving strategies. These data will be used to guide futureinitiatives on problem-solving education and strategies.

Johnson, R. E., & Linsenmeier, R. A. (2015, June), Evaluating and Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills in a Physiology Course for Biomedical Engineering Students (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24027

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