The Design and Experimental Evaluation of a Scaffolded Software Environment to Improve Engineering Students' Disciplinary Problem-Solving Skills

By Hundhausen, Christopher; Agarwal, Pawan et al. | Journal of Engineering Education, July 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Design and Experimental Evaluation of a Scaffolded Software Environment to Improve Engineering Students' Disciplinary Problem-Solving Skills


Hundhausen, Christopher, Agarwal, Pawan, Zollars, Richand, Carter, Adam, Journal of Engineering Education


BACKGROUND

Introductory gateway engineering courses are notorious for their high attrition rates. Deficiencies in students' problem-solving processes may contribute to their failure in these courses. In an empirical study of student problem solving, we observed that students struggle because of misconceptions regarding the basic syntax and semantics of disciplinary diagrams and corresponding mathematical equations.

PURPOSE (HYPOTHESIS)

We hypothesize that a scaffolded software environment that provides dynamically-generated feedback on the syntactic and semantic correctness of students' evolving disciplinary diagrams and mathematical equations can improve engineering students' problem-solving abilities.

DESIGN/METHOD

We iteratively developed ChemProV, a software environment to assist chemical engineering students in solving material balance problems. To evaluate ChemProV's effectiveness, we performed two between-subjects experimental studies. The first study compared a preliminary version of the ChemProV to pen-and-paper. The second study compared a redesigned version of ChemProV with dynamic feedback to the same version of ChemProV without dynamic feedback.

RESULTS

While it did not uncover any significant differences, the first study provided insight into how to improve ChemProV's dynamic feedback mechanism. The second study found that the "feedback" version of ChemProV promoted a statistically-significant advantage in problem-solving accuracy, significantly more time-on-task, and a transfer-of-training to an unscaffolded problem-solving situation.

CONCLUSIONS

A scaffolded software environment like ChemProV can serve as a valuable aid in helping students learn engineering problem-solving skills. Its software design approach can be used as a model for designing educationally-effective software environments for other engineering disciplines.

KEYWORDS

problem solving, software scaffolding, visualization

(ProQuest: ... denotes formula omitted.)

Introduction

The demand for engineering graduates is on the rise, yet engineering degree programs continue to struggle to retain the students who enter their programs. Indeed, introductory gateway courses typically lose 35 percent of their students (Gainen, 1995), and fewer than 50 percent of students who enter engineering degree programs go on to graduate (Borrego, Padilla, Zhang, Ohland, 8c T. J. Anderson, 2005). These data suggest students' success or failure in an engineering program is related to their ability to pass introductory gateway courses. Such courses typically introduce students to an engineering approach to solving disciplinary problems - an approach they will need to use throughout their careers as engineers (e.g., Felder, 1986). Why, then, do so many students fail to complete introductory gateway courses?

Possible Reasons for Failure

Student failure in gateway engineering courses has been linkfid to many factors, ranging from deficiencies in teacher training and pedagogical approaches (e.g., Custer ôcDaugherty, 2009), to the lack of an adequate learning community (e.g., Besana 8c Dettoli, 2004), to individual student differences (e.g., Betgin, Reilly, 8cTraynor, 2005), to mismatches in cognitive learning styles (e.g., Felder Oc Spurlin, 2005). Another possibility, based on past research into differences in novice and expert problem-solving (Chi, Glaser, 8c Rees, 1982; Gick, 1986; e.g., Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999), is diat deficiencies in students' problem-solving processes contribute to their failure in gateway courses. In order to explore how students go about solving disciplinary problems, and why they fail, we conducted an exploratory empirical study in which we recorded four pairs of introductory chemical engineering students as they solved material balance problems (Zollars, Hundhausen, 8c Stefik, 2007). This process involves diree key steps: (a) creating a process flow diagram diat models die chemical process described in die material balance problem; (b) creating a corresponding system of mathematical equations; and (c) solving die equations for die unknowns.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Design and Experimental Evaluation of a Scaffolded Software Environment to Improve Engineering Students' Disciplinary Problem-Solving Skills
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?