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Comparison of Recent Engineering Problem-Solving Models

Comparison of Recent Engineering Problem-Solving Models,E. E. Anderson,R. Taraban

Comparison of Recent Engineering Problem-Solving Models  
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Models of the cognitions used by engineering students to solve problems have always been a part of engineering education. Many, such as the engineering mechanics model (select free-body, draw vector diagram, write equilibrium equations, and solve equilibrium equations), have been part of the introduction of students to engineering topics for a long time. More recently, student problem-solving processes are being reexamined with an eye towards a deeper understanding of the student problem- solving process and developing new approaches to student problem-solving that develop engineering insight, conceptual knowledge, critical examination, and reflective thinking skills. Several of the more recent problem-solving models reported in the engineering and science education literature are dissected and compared in this paper. This comparison indicates that the motivation, definition, exploration, planning, execution, checking, and generalization model of Wankat and Oreovicz (1) is general enough to accommodate most of the elements (but, not necessarily all) of the other models. When properly implemented, this model also contributes to the development of the additional thinking skills required of modern engineers. Introduction - The engineering profession and engineering education currently face two problems: (A) we do not have enough students enrolling in and graduating from engineering programs (2), and (B) graduates are not adequately prepared to practice modern engineering (3). United States engineering college admissions began to drop in 2001(4) and have shown no sign of turning around. Similar trends are evident in other countries throughout the world. Hence, if we are to solve problem A, we will need to improve recruiting, retention, and student persistence to graduation. Part of the retention and persistence problem has to do with the way that first- and second- year students are taught, a change in their perception of engineering during the first year, and science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM) courses they consider to be tedious and unrealistic. Daempfle (5) describes the STEM classroom with his "Cold Climate Hypothesis" in which faculty do not like to teach, do not value teaching, and value their research above teaching. STEM courses at this level are also frequently taught in large lecture sections with break-out discussions conducted by inexperienced instructors. When asked why did you leave engineering, the dropout student frequently replies Statics, Thermodynamics, and Material Science; three of the five or so early "weed-out" courses. These courses form the foundation of most engineering curricula and set the learning pattern for the remaining curriculum. As such, it is important that the pedagogue practiced in these courses begin the process of developing the behaviors needed to address the issues of problem B. As economies progress from manufacturing and service to innovation and discovery as is occurring in many countries, engineers will need to be more reflective, innovative, and conceptually oriented. Engineering education needs to develop new skills and effective thought processes in its graduates. In order to develop higher-order thinking skills, engineering students need to engage the higher-levels of Bloom's taxonomy. However, the research of King and Kitchner (6) and Pavelich and Moore (7) indicate that this is not happening. To answer the above questions, we must define levels of learning and what level of learning should be achieved. To do this we refer to the requirements by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (8). In the 2007 ABET criteria guidelines it is clearly stated that programs must demonstrate that their graduates have the ability to apply knowledge of math, science, and engineering; to design and conduct experiments and interpret data; to design a system, component, or process to meet needs; to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems; to engage in lifelong learning; to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice. The above highlighted "abilities" fall within the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (i.e., the conceptual and reflective levels). These levels
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