Research

chalkboard with equations and bookshelf.

Our faculty members conduct research in the areas of student learning, curricular design, student success factors, and assessment techniques.  

Featured Research Projects

Interested in working with our faculty members on one of these research projects? Contact us with your interest.

Developing Homework Problems to Increase Conceptual Knowledge Development and Sense-making

Principal Investigator: Jessica Swenson

Abstract: Engineering students spend a significant amount solving homework problems for their technical, core courses. Yet, we know little about what students are doing as they solve these homework problems. Dr. Swenson’s previous work examined student group discourse as they solved assigned homework problems and found students conversations mostly focused on getting problems done instead of discussing concepts and their application. This project will focus on developing homework problems that emphasize making sense of concepts, especially through writing and discussion. Work on this project will include collecting data on current homework problems, developing prompts, and piloting problems with small groups of students.

Impact of Pre-College Computing Education

Principal Investigator: Adrienne Decker

Abstract: There are many initiatives in place to introduce computing (and programming) to audiences before reaching university-level education. This project investigates the landscape of pre-college computing education and its impact on those participating. The project is centered around a resource center which contains curated information about pre-college computing education as published in the literature, a set of validated evaluation instruments for computing education, and resources to introduce newcomers to research in this space. The continued development of this resource center is one aspect of the project, but another is the analysis of the data contained within and the collection of new data about the impact of these activities on participants.

Investigating the Role of Problem Typology in Helping Engineering Undergrads Effectively Communicate Their Experience

Principal Investigator: Andrew Olewnik

Abstract: An important and recognized challenge for undergraduate programs is to provide engineering students with experiences that provide insight on what it means to be an engineer in practice. For such experiences to be truly meaningful to professional formation, students must also be capable of internalizing and effectively communicating insights from these experiences later. In this research to “internalize and communicate experience” refers to a student’s metacognition of their professional competencies and the level to which they can effectively communicate those competencies. This ongoing project explicates a problem typology and reflection framework as context for student problem/project-based learning experiences. Through mixed methods research that includes group problem solving discussions, written reflection, and mock interviews, we are investigating the role of problem typology in helping students to: (i) recognize and orient themselves to different types of engineering problems; (ii) deconstruct and re-synthesize technical experiences in terms of specific professional competencies; and (iii) improve communication of professionally relevant experiences to external parties - i.e. employers.

Engineering education project database map.

Open-ended Modeling Problems for Engineering Science Courses

Principal Investigator: Jessica Swenson

Abstract: The Open-ended Modeling Problems project is working to create new homework problems for technical, core engineering courses that are open-ended (no one correct answer) in nature. These problems ask students to use course content to create a mathematical model of a given real-world scenario. The study examines how students approach these problems as well as how it is developing their engineering judgment. Work on this project includes analyzing previously collected interviews, in-class discussions, and students’ homework, as well as helping the growing research team to develop new open-ended modeling problems.

airplane with mathematical equations pointing to wheels.
mathematical chart.

Problem Typology as a Foundation toward an Engineering Education Problem Database

Principal Investigator: Andrew Olewnik

Abstract: Engineers are known for defining themselves as problem solvers, and solving open, complex problems is recognized as exemplary practice. However, there is no agreement on how an expert behaves in practice, nor is there agreement on specific problems, protocols, or rubrics to assess student learning as they work toward becoming expert problem solvers. Using engineering problem typology and problem solving characteristics described in the literature, this research seeks to develop a standard for categorizing problems along dimensions like structured-ness, complexity, representation, and domain knowledge. This research requires collaboration and investigation across academics disciplines and with experts in the field in order to contribute to our understanding of specific differences and commonality between disciplines at the resolution of the individual stages of the different engineering problem types. Such knowledge could help to inform the pedagogical approaches, assignments, and assessment methods in individual courses, and serve as a foundation for a standardized, community-developed database of engineering problems.

Use of Homework in Problem-Solving Courses

Principal Investigator: Carl Lund

Abstract: Multiple iterations of practice and feedback are effective for the development of problem-solving ability. Often in engineering courses each homework assignment is graded and used to assess achievement of course learning outcomes. Feedback to students occurs too late and may be limited to providing a “correct” solution to the homework assignment and, perhaps, a few terse comments written on the submission. Alternative approaches to assigning homework that afford opportunities to fail, receive feedback and learn from mistakes prior to assessment of learning are being studied in this project. These approaches include scaffolded in-class practice, grading initial assignments only on effort and using homework wrappers to better target feedback, combined with explicit instruction of problem-type identification and general solution strategy.

Using Subgoal Labeling to Teach Introductory Programming

Principal Investigator: Adrienne Decker

Abstract: This project involves the introduction of subgoal labels into the introductory programming class as a pedagogic technique for enhancing student experience and learning. The research team has developed worked examples of problems that incorporate subgoal labels, which are explanations that describe the function of steps in the problem solution to the learner and highlight the problem solving process. Using subgoal labels within worked examples, which has been shown effective in other STEM fields, is intended to break down problem solving procedures into pieces that are small enough for novices to grasp. The developed subgoals are being piloted at various academic institutions in the US in the upcoming academic year. The team is now focused on analysis of the data from the pilot sites and working on issues of deployment and dissemination. In addition, subgoal labels for additional courses beyond the first course are being explored.