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Examining Problem Solving Skills Between Students With And Without Engineering Work Experience

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Nuts and Bolts of Cooperative Education

Tagged Division

Cooperative & Experiential Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.545.1 - 15.545.15



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Paper Authors

author page

Alexander Yin Pennsylvania State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Examining Problem-Solving Skills between Students with and without Engineering Work Experience

Abstract Cooperative education (co-op) and internships are forms of experiential education that allows students to complement their classroom experiences with work experience. This qualitative study addresses the following research question: “How do students with cooperative education or internship experience differ in their perception and understanding of their engineering problem-solving skills as compared to students with no experience?” For this study, I interviewed three groups of senior electrical engineering students at a single research I university: 1) students who completed three rotations in the co-op program, 2) students who completed at least one internship, and 3) students who did neither co-op nor internship. In total, I interviewed 17 undergraduate engineering students.

The analysis suggested three types of knowledge were differentially influenced by students’ classroom and work (co-op/internship) experiences: theoretical, practical, and procedural knowledge. “Theoretical knowledge” refers to the theories, laws and principles of the field. The majority of the students reported that classroom experiences in solving textbook problems helped them develop this type of knowledge. “Practical knowledge” encouraged students to consider factors besides technical issues when solving problems. Students with work experience described how their work assignments often required them to consider contextual factors beyond technical issues. These contextual factors were not always prominent in classroom assignments or homework problems. Finally, “procedural knowledge” can be defined as knowledge of how to solve problems. When comparing the groups, students with co-op and internship experiences were more likely to understand the importance of this kind of knowledge than students without work experience.


In today’s world, the contributions by engineers surround us. From the cars we drive to work, to the televisions we watch for entertainment, to the cell phones we use to communicate with one another all are products developed by engineers. From one perspective, these products are answers to a problem; cars allow us to travel from point A to point B in a timely fashion, televisions bring entertainment to our homes, and cell phones make us easily accessible to our friends and family. Yet, even after these products are available to the general population, engineers still search for ways to enhance them to produce a better product. The solution to the problem is never perfect, and thus problem-solving is continuous. The nation’s desire for environmentally friendly cars has engineers searching for solutions to improve fuel economy and develop alternative fuels. Televisions are not only larger than they were 20 years ago but flatter and producing life-like images in an energy efficient fashion. People now communicate not only by talking through cell phones, but also through texting and sending pictures. Technology develops through engineers solving problems.

As the United States evolved from an industrialized to a knowledge-based economy, the development of new technologies has become vital to its economic welfare. Accordingly our

Yin, A. (2010, June), Examining Problem Solving Skills Between Students With And Without Engineering Work Experience Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15741

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015