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Framing Engineering Problems in an Intramural Context

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Best in DEED

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Andrew Olewnik University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

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Andrew Olewnik is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University at Buffalo. His research includes undergraduate engineering education with focus on engineering design process and methods, ill-structured problem solving, problem typology, and experiential and informal learning environments in the professional formation of engineers. He is interested in the development of tools, methods, and strategies that aid in engineering problem definition, and problem solving discourse among students, faculty, and practitioners. Dr. Olewnik is also the Director of Experiential Learning for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and associate professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information and Learning Sciences program and in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and a 2018 NSF CAREER awardee in engineering education research. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions, specifically on design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Supporting students to frame design problems is one of the most challenging aspects of engineering education, and as faculty, sharing agency with students, such that they have framing agency to make decisions that are consequential to the problem frame is difficult. In this paper, we report on students’ progress framing authentic problems early and after four months of work. Set in a high-agency, co-curricular intramural program where students work on interdisciplinary design projects, we found, using surveys and student work, that early in the process, students reported open-ended problems constrained somewhat by budget or design requirements. Over time, they came to recognize their own limitations as constraining, became more tentative in their treatment of the problem, and reported opportunities to learn from their own and peers’ decisions. Students who reported opportunities to learn also reported working on somewhat more constrained problems yet being able to make consequential decisions. Collectively, this suggests problems that offer a Goldilocks middle ground, that include endemic constraints yet allow students to make consequential decisions may be a key ingredient for developing problem framing capacity. We share instructional implications related to supporting students to differentiate between design requirements and constraints, in shifting from qualitative understandings to quantitative requirements and their role in doing so, and navigating their own limitations.

Olewnik, A., & Svihla, V. (2021, July), Framing Engineering Problems in an Intramural Context Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37206

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