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Thinking About Thinking: Problem Solving Style In The Engineering Classroom

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.665.1 - 5.665.9



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Kathryn Jablokow

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1330

Thinking About Thinking: Problem Solving Style in the Engineering Classroom

Kathryn W. Jablokow The Pennsylvania State University


This paper will discuss a powerful tool called the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory, or KAI, which can be used to help describe a student’s problem solving style4,6. Developed by psychologist M. J. Kirton, the KAI provides valuable feedback which helps students understand the types of problems with which they are naturally more comfortable, as well as those which will challenge them the most. Armed with this information, students are able to determine which new skills they will need to enhance their engineering problem solving ability. In addition to helping students with their individual development, knowledge of the KAI is also helpful in forming productive teams, both in the classroom and in the field. The KAI is being used regularly in engineering problem solving and design courses at the Pennsylvania State University. Specific examples of its use and application in these classrooms will be discussed.

1.0 Introduction

Problem solving lies at the heart of the engineering profession. Engineering instruction is based largely, if not entirely, on teaching students how to solve problems of many different types and levels of complexity. Yet the problem solving styles of the students themselves are rarely considered in the learning process. An individual’s problem solving style refers to his or her approach to problems, including the manner in which he or she deals with the various stages of problem definition, data gathering, idea generation, evaluation of solutions, and final solution implementation.

In general, a mismatch of any kind between problem and problem solver can lead to inefficiency and frustration. Typically, difficulties with problem solving are attributed to a lack of knowledge or ability, but based on the theory and applications presented here, we find that an individual’s problem solving style also influences the level of his or her success with certain problems. The objective of this discussion is to present an existing cognitive theory which helps provide insight into another dimension of the problem solving process. We begin with a brief description of the basic tenets of M. J. Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation Theory6.

2.0 Fundamentals of Adaption-Innovation Theory

Kirton’s Adaption-Innovation (AI) Theory is based on two assumptions: first, that all people are creative, and second, that all people solve problems7. Individuals differ, however, in the cognitive style in which they do so. Kirton makes a sharp distinction between level and style of problem solving/creativity, which is critical to an understanding of the theory. Cognitive level

Jablokow, K. (2000, June), Thinking About Thinking: Problem Solving Style In The Engineering Classroom Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8773

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