Daytona Beach, Florida
August 6, 2017
August 6, 2017
August 8, 2017
FYEE Conference - Works in Progress Submission
There have been multiple calls to improve undergraduate engineering education in order to better prepare students to solve complex problems within rapidly changing, multi-disciplinary environments. One method to address these challenges is to provide students with the opportunity to experience design problems, open-ended problems, and ill-structured problems throughout their undergraduate studies. Open-ended and ill-structured problems, unlike well-structured problems and exercises, require students to collect information, evaluate sources, and provide a justification for their work. These problems give students the opportunity to develop skills and strategies that can be transferred to larger design experiences.
The goal of this work is to understand the process students use to complete an open-ended problem within a first-year physics for engineers course. Within the course, the students complete two design challenges; however, the majority of the problems related to the content in the course are well-defined and close-ended in nature. The open-ended problem we studied in this work requires students to identify and analyze a physical phenomenon using physics principles from the course. Students were asked to describe the phenomenon, write a problem statement, collect needed information and data, calculate a numeric answer, and justify their solution. Given that this problem was different in nature than other course problems, we sought to understand more about the processes and challenges the students faced in order to inform future versions and how to better scaffold the problem for the future.
The assignment we studied was assigned as extra-credit in the course, and students were not required to have their work included in the study to receive extra credit. In addition to writing and solving their own problem, students were asked to complete an open-ended survey. The survey included items to understand how students identified a physical phenomenon to analyze, where and how they collected the required information, and what aspects of the assignment were the easiest and most challenging. Students’ responses to the open-ended items will be analyzed using conventional qualitative content analysis in which codes will be developed from the data. We will also analyze the work students submit for the assignment, to assess quality of the assignment to gain more insight into the areas that were challenging for students. The outcomes of this analysis will be overlaid with the outcomes from analyzing the open-ended survey responses as a means of triangulation and expansion. Additionally, a constant comparative approach will be taken to understand areas of similarity and difference between students. The outcomes of the analysis will be used to inform future iterations of the assignment and provide scaffolding for the problem to better support students in the areas they found challenging.
Faber, C. J., & Kit, K., & Pionke, C. D. (2017, August), Understanding the Processes and Challenges Students’ Experience Solving an Open-Ended Problem Paper presented at 2017 FYEE Conference, Daytona Beach, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/29440
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