skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on October 8, 2023

Title: Improving engineering students’ problem-solving skills through think-aloud exercises
This paper presents an innovative approach to improve engineering students’ problem-solving skills by implementing think-aloud exercises. Sometimes engineering students claim they do not know where to start with the problem-solving process, or they are not sure how to proceed to the next steps when they get stuck. A systematic training that focuses on the problem-solving process and the justification of each step could help. Think-aloud techniques help make the invisible mental processes visible to learners. Engineering think-aloud technique engages students and helps them make their way through a solving process step-by-step, reasoning along with them. In this study, a multiple faceted systematic approach that integrates think-aloud exercises through video assignments and oral exams were developed and implemented in two pilot engineering classes. We present our think-aloud exercises and oral exams structures in each of the courses and their impacts on students' learning outcomes, and students’ perceptions towards the pedagogical approach. Both quantitative and qualitative results show that the think-aloud exercise assignments and oral exams enhance students’ problem-solving skills and promote learning.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
2022 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE)
Page Range / eLocation ID:
1 to 6
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. This research paper analyzes the emotions that students experience while completing ill-defined complex problems called Open-Ended Modeling Problems in their engineering courses. Students are asked to make their own modeling decisions, rather than being given those assumptions, as is the case in most textbook problems. There are many approaches they can take, and having to make decisions and assumptions that impact the problem has been found to generate strong emotions. Goldin’s research on mathematics education asserts that students tend toward affective pathways while completing problems. An affective pathway is the sequence of emotions that a student goes through while solving a problem. Goldin theorizes that there are two main categories of affective pathways that students fall into: positive pathways and negative pathways. This paper builds on our previous work on the development of a survey instrument to quantitatively measure affective pathways. The survey asked students to drag and drop emotions into the order they experienced them during their problem solving process. In this study, we sought to improve upon our survey instrument. Based on our previous research, we added several emotions and alphabetized the list to see whether the order of words impacted the responses. Here, we examine the results from an updated survey question as well as a small set of interviews conducted to investigate how students approach answering the survey question by having them think aloud while completing it. The survey was sent to six classes at five universities, and interviews were conducted with six students at two of those universities. Through our analysis, we found that most students feel confused or frustrated at some stage, and that their emotions change as they continue from start to finish, which is in line with the findings of the previous version of the survey instrument. We are looking further into whether the students turned their frustrations into the positive or negative pathways that Goldin describes. From the interviews, we found most of the verbalized pathways matched what was submitted through the survey instrument. However, there were instances where the submitted and verbalized pathway did not match, suggesting further changes to the question’s implementation. Developing a reliable method for measuring affective pathways will enable future study of why and when positive or negative pathways occur, as well as potential actions that engineering educators can take to help students interrupt negative pathways. Goldin’s work suggests that negative pathways influence students’ global affect, which could impact retention in engineering. 
    more » « less
  2. Evidence has shown that facilitating student-centered learning (SCL) in STEM classrooms enhances student learning and satisfaction [1]–[3]. However, despite increased support from educational and government bodies to incorporate SCL practices [1], minimal changes have been made in undergraduate STEM curriculum [4]. Faculty often teach as they were taught, relying heavily on traditional lecture-based teaching to disseminate knowledge [4]. Though some faculty express the desire to improve their teaching strategies, they feel limited by a lack of time, training, and incentives [4], [5]. To maximize student learning while minimizing instructor effort to change content, courses can be designed to incorporate simpler, less time-consuming SCL strategies that still have a positive impact on student experience. In this paper, we present one example of utilizing a variety of simple SCL strategies throughout the design and implementation of a 4-week long module. This module focused on introductory tissue engineering concepts and was designed to help students learn foundational knowledge within the field as well as develop critical technical skills. Further, the module sought to develop important professional skills such as problem-solving, teamwork, and communication. During module design and implementation, evidence-based SCL teaching strategies were applied to ensure students developed important knowledge and skills within the short timeframe. Lectures featured discussion-based active learning exercises to encourage student engagement and peer collaboration [6]–[8]. The module was designed using a situated perspective, acknowledging that knowing is inseparable from doing [9], and therefore each week, the material taught in the two lecture sessions was directly applied to that week’s lab to reinforce students’ conceptual knowledge through hands-on activities and experimental outcomes. Additionally, the majority of assignments served as formative assessments to motivate student performance while providing instructors with feedback to identify misconceptions and make real-time module improvements [10]–[12]. Students anonymously responded to pre- and post-module surveys, which focused on topics such as student motivation for enrolling in the module, module expectations, and prior experience. Students were also surveyed for student satisfaction, learning gains, and graduate student teaching team (GSTT) performance. Data suggests a high level of student satisfaction, as most students’ expectations were met, and often exceeded. Students reported developing a deeper understanding of the field of tissue engineering and learning many of the targeted basic lab skills. In addition to hands-on skills, students gained confidence to participate in research and an appreciation for interacting with and learning from peers. Finally, responses with respect to GSTT performance indicated a perceived emphasis on a learner-centered and knowledge/community-centered approaches over assessment-centeredness [13]. Overall, student feedback indicated that SCL teaching strategies can enhance student learning outcomes and experience, even over the short timeframe of this module. Student recommendations for module improvement focused primarily on modifying the lecture content and laboratory component of the module, and not on changing the teaching strategies employed. The success of this module exemplifies how instructors can implement similar strategies to increase student engagement and encourage in-depth discussions without drastically increasing instructor effort to re-format course content. Introduction. 
    more » « less
  3. Previous studies have convincingly shown that traditional, content-centered, and didactic teaching methods are not effective for developing a deep understanding and knowledge transfer. Nor does it adequately address the development of critical problem-solving skills. Active and collaborative instruction, coupled with effective means to encourage student engagement, invariably leads to better student learning outcomes irrespective of academic discipline. Despite these findings, the existing construction engineering programs, for the most part, consist of a series of fragmented courses that mainly focus on procedural skills rather than on the fundamental and conceptual knowledge that helps students become innovative problem-solvers. In addition, these courses are heavily dependent on traditional lecture-based teaching methods focused on well-structured and closed-ended problems that prepare students to plug variables into equations to get the answer. Existing programs rarely offer a systematic approach to allow students to develop a deep understanding of the engineering core concepts and discover systematic solutions for fundamental problems. Without properly understanding these core concepts, contextualized in domain-specific settings, students are not able to develop a holistic view that will help them to recognize the big picture and think outside the box to come up with creative solutions for arising problems. The long history of empirical learning in the field of construction engineering shows the significant potential of cognitive development through direct experience and reflection on what works in particular situations. Of course, the complex nature of the construction industry in the twenty-first century cannot afford an education through trial and error in the real environment. However, recent advances in computer science can help educators develop virtual environments and gamification platforms that allow students to explore various scenarios and learn from their experiences. This study aims to address this need by assessing the effectiveness of guided active exploration in a digital game environment on students’ ability to discover systematic solutions for fundamental problems in construction engineering. To address this objective, through a research project funded by the NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers (EEC), we designed and developed a scenario-based interactive digital game, called Zebel, to guide students solve fundamental problems in construction scheduling. The proposed gamified pedagogical approach was designed based on the Constructivism learning theory and a framework that consists of six essential elements: (1) modeling; (2) reflection; (3) strategy formation; (4) scaffolded exploration; (5) debriefing; and (6) articulation. We also designed a series of pre- and post-assessment instruments for empirical data collection to assess the effectiveness of the proposed approach. The proposed gamified method was implemented in a graduate-level construction planning and scheduling course. The outcomes indicated that students with no prior knowledge of construction scheduling methods were able to discover systematic solutions for fundamental scheduling problems through their experience with the proposed gamified learning method. 
    more » « less
  4. As the need for interdisciplinary collaboration increases, industry needs engineers who are not only affluent in technical engineering skills but also efficient in skills such as communication, problem-solving, engineering ethics, and business management. As a result, engineering programs are tasked with providing students with sufficient opportunities to develop non-technical professional skills to better prepare them for the workforce. Previous research has focused on exploring how and where students tend to develop profession skills and assessments have been established to measure the level of professional skills. However, without a means to measure whether students are getting sufficient opportunities for development, it is hard for educators and engineering programs to determine whether or where scaffolding are needed. We developed an instrument to assess undergraduate engineering students’ opportunities for professional skill development. To increase content validity, we conducted 20 think-aloud interviews with students from a large Midwestern university. The aim of this WIP is two-fold. We present the preliminary results of the think-aloud interview to determine what changes need to be made to existing items and what emerging themes appear regarding to participants’ professional skill development opportunities. After thematic analysis of the interview transcripts, we revised 10 items by simplifying the grammar or altering certain words that tend to confuse participants or carry negative connotations. We found that, compared to students who have only been involved in class projects, those with co-curricular experiences tend to report more opportunities in skills related to business management principles and problem-solving skills. Co-curricular activities were also the most referenced in building communication skills. Our next step will be piloting the instrument across multiple institutions and conducting validation analysis. 
    more » « less
  5. This work in progress paper describes ongoing work to understand the ways in which students make use of manipulatives to develop their representational competence and deepen their conceptual understanding of course content. Representational competence refers to the fluency with which a subject expert can move between different representations of a concept (e.g. mathematical, symbolic, graphical, 2D vs. 3D, pictorial) as appropriate for communication, reasoning, and problem solving. Several hands-on activities for engineering statics have been designed and implemented in face-to-face courses since fall 2016. In the transition to online learning in response to the COVID 19 pandemic, modeling kits were sent home to students so they could work on the activities at their own pace and complete the associated worksheets. An assignment following the vector activities required students to create videotaped or written reflections with annotated pictures using the models to explain their thinking around key concepts. Students made connections between abstract symbolic representations and their physical models to explain concepts such as a general 3D unit vector, the difference between spherical coordinate angles and coordinate direction angles, and the meaning of decomposing a vector into components perpendicular and parallel to a line. Thematic analysis of the video and written data was used to develop codes and identify themes in students’ use of the models as it relates to developing representational competence. The student submissions also informed the design of think-aloud exercises in one-on-one semi-structured interviews between researchers and students that are currently in progress. This paper presents initial work analyzing and discussing themes that emerged from the initial video and written analysis and plans for the subsequent think-aloud interviews, all focused on the specific attributes of the models that students use to make sense of course concepts. The ultimate goal of this work is to develop some general guidelines for the design of manipulatives to support student learning in a variety of STEM topics. 
    more » « less