Applying Problem Solving Heuristics To A Freshman Engineering Course
2001 Annual Conference Proceedings
Many students enter undergraduate engineering programs lacking basic problem solving skills. We have adapted the problem solving heuristics originally used in a computer science environment to an introductory engineering class to help freshman engineering students develop these skills. The introductory Engineering Design and Graphics course at Penn State -Berks Campus exposes students to conventional drafting techniques, computer graphics and engineering design. The basic heuristic involves
... tifying the precise problem from a vague problem statement and then subdividing it into smaller tractable parts. Identifying the problem statement, analyzing possible solutions and presenting the final result are important aspects of the engineering design component. The solid modeling component of the course lends itself to giving students practice dividing a large problem into smaller segments for which a solution method can be more easily determined and tested. The problem solving exercises taught students to analyze the problem and think about the solution instead of rushing to implement an ill-considered solution. This assignment improved their performance compared to another section of the same course which did not include specialized problem solving activities. However, to properly interpret an unstructured problem statement, students would benefit from starting with a guided instructional approach. The students' perceptions about the value of this method vary. Some students think that many of these problems are too easy to make the extra work involved in a formal problem solving method worthwhile, but most students see the value of this formal method for solving complicated problems. A primary obstacle to implementing this method in the classroom is that students prefer to avoid the initial additional effort required by a formal problem solving strategy.