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Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Assessment Of Students' Problem Formulation Within Model Eliciting Activities

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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

Student Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.631.1 - 15.631.28



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Paper Authors


Amani Salim Purdue University

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Amani Salim is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and her Ph.D. in BioMEMS and Microelectronics from Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University. Her research focuses on problem formulation within Model-Eliciting-Activities (MEAs) with realistic engineering context.

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Heidi Diefes-Dux Purdue University

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

Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Assessment of Students' Problem Formulation within Model-Eliciting Activities


Model-Eliciting-Activities (MEAs) are open ended engineering problems set in realistic contexts, which requires teams of students to create a mathematical model for solving a client’s problem. At the beginning of each MEA, students are required to answer three questions: Q1) “Who is the client?”, Q2) “In one of two sentences, what does the client need?” and Q3) “Describe at least two issues that need to be considered when developing a solution for the client”. These questions are designed to guide students’ problem formulation. As graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) are responsible for assessing these student responses, it is anticipated that GTAs contribute to students’ ability to formulate problems. However, a cursory review of GTAs assessment of student work indicated that some GTAs struggle to properly assess students’ responses. To guide future GTA professional development with MEAs, and problem formulation in particular, this paper seeks to explore these questions in more detail: “How are the GTAs’ assessing students’ responses to the MEA individual questions?” and “Do students’ ability to answer these questions improve across the three MEAs implemented in a single semester?” Three distinct MEAs were implemented in a required first-year engineering problem-solving course in Fall 2007. Open coding and content analysis of ~500 (out of ~1500) student responses per MEA was performed to establish an expert assessment of the student responses. The expert assessment of the student responses were used to evaluate the GTAs assessments. Results verify that the GTAs’ assessments of student responses were very weak. It is clear that GTA professional development with problem formulation is needed. Recommendations for such professional development are put forth.

I. Introduction

Problem formulation often occurs at the early stages of a problem solving process when it has the greatest potential for affecting the direction and success of all succeeding stages1-3. If the problem formulation step is not successful, the result is often an incomplete, over-simplified and unclear problem solution, or even worse, an incorrect problem solution4-5. An important emphasis in problem formulation is the resolution of the open-ended engineering problem in its context with its multiple dimensions6-9. By nature, open-ended problems are ambiguous, and they potentially have multiple solutions. Open-ended engineering problems require understanding clients and their needs. In the business world, clients do not come for services with infinite resources at their disposal; they operate within boundaries, which includes financial or design constraints10. This requires an ability to recognize the relevant context and content of a problem. Problem formulation within open-ended problems is also an iterative process, where it requires accepting priori constraints and utilizing creative and multi-disciplinary thinking9. As engineering students’ learn how to formulate problems, assessment strategies should accommodate these aspects of problem formulation.

Good assessment practice has a number of features. First, assessment should be aligned with institution and course objectives/goals10,11. Problem formulation is a relevant aspect of

Salim, A., & Diefes-Dux, H. (2010, June), Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Assessment Of Students' Problem Formulation Within Model Eliciting Activities Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16005

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