June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 29, 2011
Educational Research and Methods
22.1084.1 - 22.1084.21
Moving beyond formulas and fixations: Exploring approaches to solving open-ended engineering problemsAbstractOpen-ended problem solving is a skill that is central to engineering practice. As a consequencedeveloping skills in solving such problems is imperative for engineering graduates. Open-endedproblems are often ill-defined and can have more than one viable solution which can createadditional challenges for students and teachers. For example, solving open-ended problems canrequire consideration of a complex array of constraints and the paths to a solution are many. Thequalitative study presented in this paper explores the approaches taken by eight materialsscience/engineering students to solving open-ended problems. A think aloud method was used tocollect data and analyze the problem solving approaches of each student. Each student describedtheir actions and thought processes aloud as they worked through an open-ended problem andthese think aloud sessions were video recorded and transcribed for analysis. In addition, eachparticipant’s final solution was graded for quality.Among the eight participants a wide spectrum of solution paths and problem-solving processeswere apparent. Through the use of script analysis four approaches to solving the problem wereidentified (unproductive, fixated, formula-driven, and linear design process approaches). The twoparticipants with the lowest solution scores had difficulty making important decisions due toeither a lack of focus or too narrow of a focus. The two participants with below average scoresexhibited both fixations and uncertainty which inhibited them from reaching a solution to theproblem. One participant whose score was above average took a formula-driven “plug and chug”approach to the problem without exhibiting more than a surface understanding of the problem.The three participants with the highest scores took very linear design process approaches to theproblem. They avoided fixations on irrelevant concepts or re-conceptualizations and were able toidentify critical decision points in the problem solving process. These results show thatperformance on open-ended problems is related to the processes students use. Thus, carefulattention to teaching appropriate approaches to solving open-ended problems is likely to improvestudents’ abilities to solve those problems.
Douglas, E. P., & Koro-Ljungberg, M., & Malcolm, Z. T., & McNeill, N., & Therriault, D. J., & Lee, C. S. (2011, June), Moving Beyond Formulas and Fixations: Exploring Approaches to Solving Open-Ended Engineering Problems Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18480
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