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Moving Beyond Formulas and Fixations: Exploring Approaches to Solving Open-Ended Engineering Problems

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Conference

2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Open-Ended Problems and Student Learning

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count

21

Page Numbers

22.1084.1 - 22.1084.21

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/18480

Download Count

46

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Paper Authors

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Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Dr. Elliot P. Douglas is Associate Chair, Associate Professor, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. His research activities are in the areas of active learning, problem solving, critical thinking, and use of qualitative methodologies in engineering education. Specifically, he has published and presented work on the use of guided inquiry as an active learning technique for engineering; how critical thinking is used in practice by students; and how different epistemological stances are enacted in engineering education research. He has been involved in faculty development activities since 1998, through the ExCEEd Teaching Workshops of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Essential Teaching Seminars of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the US National Science Foundation-sponsored SUCCEED Coalition. He has received several awards for his work, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the Ralph Teetor Education Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers, being named a University of Florida Distinguished Teaching Scholar, and being named the University of Florida Teacher of the Year for 2003-04. He is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Educational Research Association, and the American Chemical Society. He is a Past Chair of the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering Division of the American Chemical Society and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Polymer Reviews.

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Mirka Koro-Ljungberg University of Florida

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Mirka Koro-Ljungberg is an Associate professor of qualitative research methodology at the University of Florida. She received her doctorate from the University of Helsinki, Finland. Prior to joining the faculty at the University of Florida she conducted research a visiting scholar at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on the conceptual and theoretical aspects of qualitative research and participant-driven methodologies.

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Zaria T. Malcolm University of Florida

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Zaria T. Malcolm is a doctoral candidate, Fulbright scholar and alumni fellow in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education at the University of Florida. Her area of specialization is Higher Educational Administration and Qualitative Research Methodology.

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Nathan McNeill University of Florida, Gainesville

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Nathan McNeill is a post doctoral associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida where he is studying the factors that contribute to success in open-ended problem solving. He has a Ph.D. in engineering education from Purdue University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from The Georgia Institute of Technology, and a B.S. in engineering from Walla Walla University.

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David J. Therriault University of Florida

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Christine S. Lee University of Florida

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Abstract

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. https://peer.asee.org/18480

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2011 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015