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Work in Progress: Testing an Assessment of Problem Solving in Introductory Chemical Process Design Courses

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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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Paper Authors

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Eric Burkholder Stanford University Orcid 16x16

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Carl E. Wieman

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Work in progress. A fundamental goal of undergraduate engineering education is the ability to solve problems, yet there are few empirical studies demonstrating that our students are learning good problem-solving skills, where we define “good” to mean the skills of a successful experienced practitioner. This is due, in large part, to a lack of assessments that measure authentic problem-solving. Based on a cognitive task analysis of the decisions made by expert scientists and engineers as they solve authentic problems, we developed a generic template to assess problem-solving. We found that central to experts’ problem-solving processes are predictive frameworks—mental models of a system’s key features and the relationships between them that allow experts to explain observations and make predictions (i.e. conduct thought experiments). The template requires students to troubleshoot a nonfunctioning system, which calls on them to make a number of these expert decisions. We used the template to create an assessment of problem-solving in chemical engineering wherein students troubleshoot a chemical process flow diagram. After validating the assessment with expert and novice interviews, we used it to test a number of chemical engineering students at different levels; we found that even some senior undergraduate students lacked the predictive frameworks necessary to successfully solve the problem. We then conducted a validation study measuring problem-solving skills in introductory chemical process design courses at two universities. In doing this we sought to determine 1) whether students’ problem-solving skills indeed improve during the introductory engineering course and 2) if the instrument was valid when implemented in a similar format to concept inventories. In this paper, we describe the results of the validation study and offer some suggestions on how to modify the assessment and how to use it.

Burkholder, E., & Wieman, C. E. (2020, June), Work in Progress: Testing an Assessment of Problem Solving in Introductory Chemical Process Design Courses Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35690

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