Intro: Almost a decade ago the Georgia Institute of Technology began to implement a novel course structure, the Problem Solving Studio (PSS). This course was initially created to assist students in understanding how to develop the skills in model-based reasoning and estimation (Le Doux, Waller, & Philips, 2016). The setting and structure of the course allows for a much more interactive experience than is typically experienced in traditional engineering courses. These interactive experiences are driven by the course’s participant structures, which include students problem-solving together in long-term teams of two (aka dyads) (Phillips, 2001). By being placed in dyads students must work with one another to master the practices of model-based reasoning and engineering judgement. But for dyads to thrive in the course the students must also develop interpersonal skills. In this study we explored the students’ awareness of the importance of interpersonal skills to their future practice as professional engineers. This study helps us unpack the key features and characteristics of this type of learning environment and their impact on students.
Research question: What features of the Problem Solving Studio most impact students’ learning experience?
Methodology: A qualitative study was conducted. One section of the PSS studio was invited to be interviewed by the research team. A total of 13 students volunteered to be interviewed. A series of three interviews were conducted over the course of one semester. Each interview focused on a different subset of semi-structured questions. For this proposal we are specifically looking at the third interview. These questions focused on impact of the course as well as recognition of transfer.
Interpretive phenomenological analysis was used to understand the students experience over a specific phenomenon, the problem-solving studio. Interviews were transcribed and through the process of inter-rater reliability between the research team, themes were constructed.
Findings: Throughout the thirteen interviews the student responses could be categorized into three sets: transformation to other courses, real world application, and a more holistic view of engineering. A table with student quotes for each theme will be included in the final paper.
Transfer: how students take skills from the PSS course and apply the same process in another course.
Real-world application: students explaining how this course also applies to problems in their everyday lives.
Holistic view: students recognizing how course changes their perspective on engineering.
Discussion: The findings from this study help us understand how the problem-solving studio can affect students in varying ways, not just their understanding of model-based reasoning and estimation. The PSS environment was designed to be a cognitive apprenticeship where, to the extent possible, students work together to solve problems co-constructively, because this is better for learning (Chi & Wylie, 2014). But a side effect may be that their experience in PSS shapes their perceptions of what it means to be an engineer or what engineers do or how they practice engineering. And as a result, we speculate that PSS may help students transfer what they learn about model-based reasoning and engineering judgement to their places of work after they graduate.
Broader impact: Overall the findings from this study suggest courses that emphasize more traditional engineering content of model-based reasoning and analytical problem solving may be improved to be more impactful for students. This course has the possibility to be adapted and scaled to different engineering courses and other engineering departments.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.