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Using Forward Inferencing as an Indicator of Problem Solving Skill in U.S. and Indian Engineering Undergraduates

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Engineering Mechanics Education

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1619.1 - 22.1619.12



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Paper Authors


Roman Taraban Texas Tech University

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Roman Taraban is Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Psychology at Texas Tech University, Assessment Coordinator for the Texas Tech University Howard Hughes Medical Institute (TTU/HHMI) Biological Sciences Education Program, Member of the Texas Tech Teaching Academy Executive Council, past President of the Society for Computers in Psychology (SCiP), and Associate Editor for the Journal of Educational Psychology. He received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. His interests are in how undergraduate students learn, and especially, how they draw meaningful connections in traditional college content materials (e.g., textbooks, lectures, multi-media). Address: Department of Psychology, Mail Stop 2051, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, 79409; telephone: 806-742-3711 ext. 247; fax: 806-742-0818; email:

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Using Forward Inferencing As An Indicator of Problem Solving Skill In U.S. and Indian Engineering UndergraduatesProblem solving requires control strategies for retrieving, selecting, and applying knowledge. Inseminal studies from the 1980s in introductory physics mechanics, a domain with similarities tostatics, two kinds of control were identified: backward inferencing and forward inferencing.Research on problem solving has shown that the specific order in which a person generatesequations in a solution is indicative of his or her level of expertise. Experts apply the process offorward inferencing. Novices apply the process of backward inferencing. Forward inferencingrequires a deep understanding of the problem. This understanding is activated immediately,either through recalling that type of problem from past experience, or through reasoning aboutthe problem before generating equations. We can examine students’ problem solving protocols todetermine if they behave more like experts or novices. The data consisted of paper-and-pencilsolutions and video-recordings of engineering freshmen and sophomores who were asked tothink aloud as they solved typical statics problems. Data collected from U.S. engineeringundergraduates at a large public university confirmed the accepted position in the researchliterature that graduate student and faculty instructors reach a level of conceptual understandingrequired for forward inferencing but that freshman-sophomore undergraduate students do not. Incontrast to these data, in a new set of data collected from Mechanics I students at an IndianInstitute of Technology, there is evidence that beginning undergraduate students can achieve thedeep problem solving insight required for forward inferencing. The U.S. and Indian data includequantitative and qualitative evidence. The distributions of forward versus backward inferencingare reported. Curriculum and cross-cultural differences are considered, in part, in accounting forthe differences between U.S. and Indian students. Consideration of changes to strengthen curricula is provided.

Taraban, R. (2011, June), Using Forward Inferencing as an Indicator of Problem Solving Skill in U.S. and Indian Engineering Undergraduates Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18850

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