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Making Assumptions and Making Models on Open-ended Homework Problems

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Student Approaches to Problem Solving

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Jessica E. S. Swenson University at Buffalo

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Jessica Swenson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at the University at Buffalo. She was awarded her doctorate and masters from Tufts University in mechanical engineering and STEM education respectively, and completed postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan. Her current research involves examining different types of homework problems in undergraduate engineering science courses, flexible classroom spaces, active learning, responsive teaching, and elementary school engineering teachers.

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Aaron W. Johnson University of Colorado Boulder

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Aaron W. Johnson is an Instructor in Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. He teaches courses in structures and vehicle design, and his research focuses on how mathematical models are taught in undergraduate engineering science courses and how these models are used in analysis and design. Before CU he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan and the Tufts University Center for Engineering Education and Outreach. He received his Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2014 and a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan in 2008.

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Mary Rola University at Buffalo

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Hoda Koushyar

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This research paper presents a study of students making assumptions and discretizing elements when solving an open-ended modeling problem (OEMP) in a sophomore-level statics class. OEMPs are homework problems with no single correct answer that ask students to mathematically model a real-world object. Our analysis focuses on two elements of engineering judgement: making assumptions and discretizing elements. We found some students made assumptions to model the real-world object as closely as possible, while other students made assumptions to create a simpler mathematical model. Furthermore, students did not always justify their decisions completely or clearly. Implications of our work include revising the OEMP prompt to engage students in more authentic assumption making and continuing to assign open-ended problems to give students experience with engineering judgement, thereby better preparing them for their professional engineering careers.

Swenson, J. E. S., & Johnson, A. W., & Rola, M., & Koushyar, H. (2020, June), Making Assumptions and Making Models on Open-ended Homework Problems Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34940

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