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Teaching and Learning Open-Ended Problem Solving Throughout a New Degree Program

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1466.1 - 26.1466.13



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Paper Authors


Jenifer Blacklock Colorado School of Mines

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Dr. Jenifer Blacklock is the Assistant Department Head in the Mechanical Engineering department at Colorado School of Mines. Blacklock is active in the Undergraduate Curriculum in the Mechanical Engineering department and is an advocate of using hands-on learning tools to help develop strong math, science, and engineering foundations.

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Jered H Dean Colorado School of Mines

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Jered is Director of the Mines College of Engineering and Computational Sciences Capstone Design Program and is passionate about teaching students engineering through project based learning. He received both his BS and MS degrees in Engineering from Colorado School of Mines. In addition to leading capstone, Jered is the faculty adviser for the Mines SAE Baja team, Anonymous Right Brains Club, and CSM Racing Club.

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Assessment  of  Teaching  and  Learning  Open-­‐Ended  Problem   Solving  Throughout  a  New  Degree  Program        The  concept  of  ‘Design’  is  a  significant  challenge  for  faculty  to  teach  and  students  to  learn.  At  the  Colorado  School  of  Mines  (CSM),  we  have  created  a  standard  and  simple  definition  along  with  student  learning  assessment  tools  to  improve  students’  ability  and  comfort  to  solve  open-­‐ended  design  problems.    The  Mechanical  Engineering  (ME)  degree  program  is  currently  in  the  process  of  implementing  open-­‐ended  design  problems  throughout  recently-­‐accredited  Mechanical  Engineering  Undergraduate  curriculum.    Open-­‐Ended  Design  problems  are  challenging  for  students  when  they  are  confronted  with  the  fact  that  there  is  no  ‘right  numerical  answer’  for  them  to  achieve.    The  uncertainty  of  no  one  ‘right’  answer  is  unnerving  to  students.  Open-­‐Ended  Design  problem-­‐solving  is  a  difficult  concept  for  faculty  to  teach  to  students  and  for  students  to  learn  and  internalize  from  faculty  because  solving  Open-­‐Ended  Design  problems  requires  a  holistic  approach  that  is  not  taught  in  analytic  courses.  In  this  study  we  have  developed  and  refined  the  curriculum  to  produce  students  who  are  capable  of  and  confident  in  holistically  solving  open-­‐ended  problems  in  a  design  context.      As  a  faculty,  we  are  keenly  aware  of  the  need  to  improve  the  well-­‐roundedness  of  our  students  so  that  they  are  capable  of  looking  at  a  problem  holistically  and  from  a  system  perspective.    We  see  the  engineering  design  process  and  Open-­‐Ended  Problem  Solving  as  vehicles  for  developing  well-­‐rounded  engineers  who  are  ready  to  enter  the  workforce.    The  ME  department  at  CSM  has  a  unique  opportunity  to  revisit  fundamental  concepts  taught  throughout  the  curriculum.  In  Fall  2013,  the  department  went  through  the  accreditation  process  for  a  B.S.  in  Mechanical  Engineering  degree,  which  was  a  transition  from  the  previously  offered  B.S.  in  General  Engineering  with  a  Mechanical  specialty.  In  July  2014,  the  ME  department  became  ABET  accredited  under  the  new  degree  offerings.    The  split  of  the  former  Engineering  Division  provided  a  unique  opportunity  for  the  faculty  to  take  a  new  look  at  the  curriculum  and  begin  to  implement  significant  changes  throughout.      We  have  started  the  process  of  following  our  students  to  be  holistic  system  thinkers  who  are  capable  of  and  confident  in  tackling  difficult  Open-­‐Ended  Problems  and  Design  challenges  of  the  future.    To  achieve  this,  we  have  taken  a  “baseline  snapshot”  of  the  current  ME  classes  in  order  to  have  a  clear  understanding  of  the  current  state  of  our  students’  abilities.  We  have  conducted  preliminary  surveying  that  strongly  indicates  our  students  are  largely  incapable  of  tackling  Open-­‐Ended  Problems  and  that  our  students  do  not  understand  Design.    We  will  implement  surveys  throughout  our  undergraduate  curriculum  to  track  students’  performance  and  improvement  over  time.    We  will  follow  students  throughout  a  five  year  period  and  analyze  their  ability  to  solve  Open-­‐Ended  Problems  while  making  changes  to  the  curriculum,  one  step  at  a  time.    

Blacklock, J., & Dean, J. H. (2015, June), Teaching and Learning Open-Ended Problem Solving Throughout a New Degree Program Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24803

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