Much of modern day engineering problem solving is completed with the aid of technology. While complex calculations can now be performed with minimal effort, it is essential that our students be able to evaluate whether the solution is “reasonable or ridiculous.” Development of this kind of “engineering intuition” is a somewhat vague, but critical, teaching goal. For example, oftentimes students complete computer simulations without questioning if the assumptions or results are practical. We are interested in the common factors among students who display high engineering intuition, in an effort to better understand how we may foster this skill in all students. Factors considered include: major, career aspirations, engineering internship experience, military service, learning preferences, overall GPA, engineering GPA, and overall homework score. These factors were analyzed against answers to open-ended questions at the end of technology-based problems designed to push students to evaluate the practicality of their results.
It was found previously that internship experience and overall GPA are indicators of providing the correct reasoning for a simulation problem. Especially interesting are “stretch” problems which require students to take extra measures by performing additional calculations, not just report on the feasibility of a scenario after having done the initial problem calculation. Success on stretch problem showed close correlation with overall GPA, with high GPA students more likely to attempt and correctly answer the problem, and low GPA students unlikely to attempt.
For this study, data on student responses to “stretch” simulations questions (ability to identify and justify whether a simulated case requiring additional calculations is practical) is being collected at multiple points during the semester. As the complexity of problems being solved increases throughout the term, there is a greater likelihood of observing differences among students in ability to assess the practicality of a situation and identifying commonalities among successful or unsuccessful students.
The study consists of one section of an undergraduate course in chemical engineering at a small East Coast university and one section of an undergraduate course in aerospace engineering at a small Southwestern university taught by two different instructors during fall 2016 (data collection underway, complete results will be available by full submission dates). The study will also be conducted in spring 2017 with one section at each university with results available by June 2017.
These results will inform future avenues of study, and eventually, after multiple semesters of evaluation are complete, we will propose a new course model that helps students question their results and gives a better understanding of how to teach “engineering intuition” to students.
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