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Operationalizing Jonassen’s Design Theory of Problem Solving: An Instrument to Characterize Educational Design Activities

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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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Ada Hurst University of Waterloo Orcid 16x16

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Ada Hurst is a Continuing Lecturer in the Department of Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo. She has taught and coordinated the capstone design courses in the Management Engineering program since 2011. She also teaches courses in organizational theory, technology, and behaviour. Her research falls in the areas of design cognition and processes, engineering design education, and gender issues in STEM disciplines. She is interested in innovations in engineering design pedagogy, problem-based learning, and effective teamwork in student teams. After completing undergraduate studies in electrical engineering, she continued on to earn a Masters and then a doctoral degree in management sciences, all from the University of Waterloo.

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Gregory Litster University of Waterloo

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Greg Litster is currently a graduate student pursuing his M.A.Sc in Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo. He received his BKI Honours, Joint Honours in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo in 2019. His research interests are focused on student design education, group dynamics, and reflection as a part of the design process.

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Christopher Rennick University of Waterloo Orcid 16x16

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Mr. Christopher Rennick received his B.A.Sc., Honours Electrical Engineering in 2007 and his M.A.Sc. in Electrical Engineering in 2009, both from the University of Windsor, in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Chris is currently a PhD student in Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo.
Since 2010, he has been employed with the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada as teaching staff.

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Jonassen’s Towards a Design Theory of Problem Solving (2000) outlines the ways in which problems differ in their structure, complexity, and domain. His influential taxonomy describes eleven problem types that vary on those scales. Design (and to some degree, case) problems are some of the “highest” types of problem-solving, presenting students with complex real-word problems that are presented in an ill-structured way. Jonassen also emphasizes the difference in individual problem solvers, who vary in their familiarity with problems, domain knowledge, information processing, and ability to reflect on the problem at hand. In Engineering programs, especially in junior and intermediate years, students have traditionally been exposed mostly to lower forms of problem-solving (e.g., algorithmic problems, rule-using problems, and troubleshooting problems), lacking significant exposure to real, ill-structured design problems until their third and fourth year. To address this problem, the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo has launched the IDEAs Clinic, which develops and delivers a multitude of authentic, ambiguous, hands-on design activities that are integrated into existing degree programs. The most ambitious types of activities have been Engineering Design Days (EDD), which are in-class, multi-day curricular activities, where students work in teams to design and build solutions to open-ended problems, using knowledge from multiple courses. Our overarching research objective is to understand the effectiveness of EDD in developing engineering students design problem solving skills. Our research framework includes the characterization of (1) the EDD activities, (2) the problem solvers (i.e., students), (3) the problem solvers’ problem solving (i.e. design) process, and (4) the solution (i.e. design). We aim to understand the interaction of (1) and (2) with the hopes of improving (3) and (4).

A first step in this research – a work in progress, is the development of an instrument for characterizing the content and structure of EDD activities. In this paper, we describe the development of an instructor survey that seeks to operationalize Jonassen’s definitions of problem structure, complexity, and representation. The survey development process began with semi-structured interviews with four instructors of previous EDD activities. These formed the basis for creating the survey questions. Survey questions were validated using a think-aloud protocol with a fifth EDD instructor. The final stage of data collection will include the dissemination of the survey to instructors of 5 different EDD activities held in the Fall 2019 term (all different from the ones interviewed/surveyed in earlier stages). This work in progress paper summarizes our efforts in developing an objective measurement instrument capable of describing ill-structured in-class design activities, and reports on the survey’s effectiveness in capturing variations in the different EDD activities along the problem dimensions described by Jonassen.

Hurst, A., & Litster, G., & Rennick, C. (2020, June), Operationalizing Jonassen’s Design Theory of Problem Solving: An Instrument to Characterize Educational Design Activities Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35011

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