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Engineering Engineering Education. A Catalyst for Change. Incorporating a Problem Solving Methodology into your course. Possible Scenario:. You have decided to try PBL You make up a great problem You assigned it to the student teams Due Date: Two weeks. What Happens Next?.

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Engineering engineering education

Engineering Engineering Education

A Catalyst for Change

Incorporating a Problem Solving Methodology into your course

Possible scenario

Possible Scenario:

You have decided to try PBL

You make up a great problem

You assigned it to the student teams

Due Date: Two weeks

What happens next

What Happens Next?

Take 4 minutes with your group to determine what might go wrong after you assign the problem

Things that may happen

Things that may happen

The students are confused...

They don’t know how to get started...

They are floundering/rebelling….

Don’t get going until the day before due date…

What can we do about it

What can we do about it:

Take 4 minutes with your group and develop 1-2 strategies to overcome the problem of getting started/floundering

What can we do about it1

What can we do about it:

Structure Problems so that students must implement a problem solving methodology

Embed methodology implicitly in the assignment, with due dates

Outcomes for this session

Outcomes for this session

You’ll be able to:

Recognize common problems that can occur with PBL

Describe a problem solving methodology

Design a problem that incorporates a problem solving methodology

Session overview
Session Overview:

  • Overview of Problem Solving Method (PSM)

  • WHY might you use a PSM?

  • WHAT is a problem solving methodology?

  • HOW might you incorporate problem solving into your course?

  • WHAT IF you want to develop materials to teach problem solving in your courses beyond this workshop?

Overview of problem solving method
Overview of Problem Solving Method?

A problem solving methodology is simply a framework or pathway for approaching a problem and developing a solution as well as reflecting and evaluating the solution

Why teach problem solving

Why teach problem solving

Gives a framework for problem solvers to work through a difficult, ill-defined problem

Helps to develop problem solving skills

Helps them to “get started” or “get unstuck”

Also provides a vehicle to require reflection or evaluation of the solution

ABET: “Graduates must demonstrate and ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems.

What does the data reveal
What does the data reveal?

  • Data for engineering students showed no significant change in confidence in their ability to solve problems (despite having solved over 2500 “problems” during their 4 years) – Woods

  • Students receiving a seminar/instruction on problem solving did show increased confidence in ability to solve problems and were less anxious about problems

Incorporating psm woods method
Incorporating PSM – Woods’ Method

  • We recommend Woods’ for several reasons

    • 1. Evidence/Research based

    • 2. Intuitive and reasonable

    • 3. Developed for engineers

Overview of wood s method
Overview of Wood’s Method

Woods Method:

1. Engage/Motivation (sometimes step 0)

2. Define

3. Explore

4. Plan

5. Do it

6. Check

7. Evaluate/reflect

Steps in woods problem solving method
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

1. Engage/Motivation

-I can do it

-I want to do it

Steps in woods problem solving method1
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

2. Define

-define what the problem states

-determine the given information

-determine constraints and

-criterion for judging final product

Steps in woods problem solving method2
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

3. Explore

-Determine the real objective of the problem

-Sketch the problem (if appropriate)

-Make reasonable assumptions

-Guestimate the answer

Steps in woods problem solving method3
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

4. Plan

-develop a plan to solve the problem

-map out sub-problems

-select appropriate theory, principles, approach

-determine information need to gather

Steps in woods problem solving method4
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

5. Do it

-implement the plan

Steps in woods problem solving method5
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

6. Check

-check the solution (units, accuracy)?

Steps in woods problem solving method6
Steps in Woods Problem Solving Method

7. Evaluate/reflect

-is it reasonable, does it make sense?

-were the assumptions appropriate?

-how does it compare to guestimate?

-question built into the problem:

is it socially/ethically acceptable?

Incorporating woods method in course activities
Incorporating Woods Method in course activities

1. Explain Woods to Students

2. Require Woods approach for different problems

a. Laboratory problems

b. Homework problems

c. Projects

3. Provide Practice, Feedback/Evaluation

Incorporating woods method in course activities1
Incorporating Woods Method in course activities


CHEG300 Homework 1

Feedback from the classroom my thoughts
Feedback from the classroom-My Thoughts

1. Effect of using PSM and PBL on learning:

-worked well

-gave them a reason to get started

-gave them a framework to get unstuck and think through the steps

2. Did it improve their problem solving skills?

-93% agreed that the course was “more effective than traditional course in developing ability to solve problems that are vaguely defined or have more than one acceptable solution.”

Student comments the good
Student Comments - The Good

“I learned a lot more by doing the problems rather than sitting in a class hearing how to do the problems and then putting the “pre-packaged” solutions into a homework problem…”

“ Walking away from this class, I have a very strong understanding of heat transfer…”

“I loved working with my team on problems…”

“I really enjoyed the set up of this class”

“I have learned more relevant material about chemical engineering this class than any other I have taken…”

Student comments the bad
Student Comments - The Bad

“There were times when we could have used more direction”

“There were times when the course load seemed too much”

“I was frustrated from time to time with the amount of direction we got to begin each problem set, but only because it was uncomfortable, not because it was bad”

Student comments the ugly
Student Comments - The Ugly

“Prince didn’t teach us anything! I had to learn everything on my own.”

Student comments the good1
Student Comments - The Good

“I’ve never before worked under this type of teaching style! I really enjoyed working through problems with group members”.

“I feel I will remember more material because I had to figure out how to use most of it”


  • Problem solving is an essential skill for engineers

  • There is evidence to suggest that traditional engineering programs do not effectively develop problem solving skills

  • Using a methodology has advantages as a means to provide guidance

  • Reported methods are (for the most part) similar

  • We recommend Woods for many reasons

Summary continued
Summary: Continued

  • Key to making it work is:

    • developing good problems!

    • providing the framework

    • practice

    • evaluation and feedback

Activity incorporating woods
Activity - Incorporating Woods

  • Engage, Explore, and Plan:

  • Using the problem you have developed for a course, take some time and structure the problem so that you could incorporate a PSM as part of the assignment.

  • Or, if you think it isn’t right for your class, continue your work on developing good problems


Woods, Donald (1995) Problem-based Learning: How to gain the most from PBL. Available on website:

Wankat, P.C. and F.S. Oreovicz. (1993) Teaching Engineering. Available on website:


Good link to many resources on PBL:

More info on PBL - links, example problems etc..: