Workplace engineering problems are different from the problems that undergraduate engineering students typically encounter in most classroom settings. Students are most commonly given well-structured problems which have clear solution paths along with well-defined constraints and goals. This paper reports on research that examines how undergraduate engineering students perceived solving an ill-structured problem. Eighteen undergraduate civil engineering students were asked to solve an ill-structured engineering problem, and were interviewed after they completed solving the problem. This qualitative study is guided by the following research question: What factors do students perceive to influence their solving of an ill-structured civil engineering problem? Students’ responses to seven follow-up interview questions were transcribed and reviewed by research team members, which were used to develop codes and themes associated with these responses. Students’ transcripts were then coded following the developed codes. The analysis of data revealed that students were generally aware of the main positives and negatives of their proposed solutions to the ill-structured problem and reported that their creativity influenced their solutions and problem solving processes. Student responses also indicated that specific life events such as classes that they had taken, personal experiences, and exposure to other ill-structured problems during an internship helped them develop their proposed solution. Given students’ responses and overall findings, this supports creating learning environments for engineering students where they can support increasing their creativity and be more exposed to complex engineering problems.
Secil Akinci-Ceylan is a PhD student in Educational Technology in the School of Education at Iowa State University.
Dr. Kristen S Cetin is an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Dr. Benjamin Ahn is an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University in the Department of Engineering Education.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
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