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Facilitating Teaching And Research On Open Ended Problem Solving Through The Development Of A Dynamic Computer Tool

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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

Curricular Issues in Computer-Oriented Programs

Tagged Division

Information Systems

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.575.1 - 15.575.9



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Paper Authors

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Matthew Verleger Purdue University

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Heidi Diefes-Dux Purdue University

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Facilitating Teaching and Research on Open-Ended Problem Solving Through the Development of a Dynamic Computer Tool


Model Eliciting Activities (MEAs) are realistic open-ended problems set in engineering contexts; student teams draw on their diverse experiences both in and out of the classroom to develop a mathematical model explicated in a memo to the client. These activities have been implemented in a required first-year engineering course with enrollments of as many as 1700 students in a given semester. The earliest MEA implementations had student teams write a single solution to a problem in the form of a memo to the client and receive feedback from their TA. For research purposes, a simple static online submission form, a static feedback form, and a single database table were quickly developed. Over time, research revealed that students need multiple feedback, revision, and reflection points to address misconceptions and achieve high quality solutions. As a result, the toolset has been expanded, patched, and re-patched multiple developers to increase both the functionality and the security of the system. Because the class is so large and the implementation sequence involved is not trivial, the technology has become a necessary to successfully manage the implementation of MEAs in the course. The resulting system has become a kluge of bloated inflexible code that now requires a part time graduate student to manage the deployment of 2-4 MEAs per semester. New functions are desired but are either not compatible or are too cumbersome to implement under the existing architecture. Based on this, a new system is currently being developed to allow for greater flexibility, easier expandability, and expanded functionality. The largest feature-set being developed for the new system are the administrative tools to ease the deployment process. Other features being planned are the ability to have students upload files and images as part of their solution. This paper will describe the history of the MEA Learning System (MEALS) and the lessons learned about developing custom teaching and research software, and will explore how the development of custom software tools can be used to facilitate the dual roles of teaching and educational research.


Since 2002, Purdue University’s first-year engineering problem solving and computer tools course (ENGR 106 – later renamed ENGR 126) has had a fall enrollment of between 1200 and 1700 students (350-800 in the spring). Students typically have their work evaluated by one of the up to 20 graduate teaching assistants (TAs), receive lectures from one of up to six faculty members, and potentially interact with one of the two full-time lab coordinators tasked with managing the day-to-day course activities. The size of the course is not trivial, and the effort required to implement any component of the curriculum is time consuming.

One of the largest pieces of that curriculum are Model-Eliciting Activities (MEAs). MEAs are realistic, open-ended, client-driven problems that require teams of students to develop a memo to the client describing a procedure for solving the problem. When MEAs were first implemented in 2002, the goal was to investigate improving gender equity through small group mathematical modeling1. To facilitate their work during the initial research, students developed a single draft of their procedure in lab and submitted it to a WebCT discussion board2. The success of that

Verleger, M., & Diefes-Dux, H. (2010, June), Facilitating Teaching And Research On Open Ended Problem Solving Through The Development Of A Dynamic Computer Tool Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16742

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