F9-C&D1-2 - Comparing problem-solving across capstone design courses in chemical engineering

3. Research Work In Progress
Eric Burkholder1 , Carl Wieman1
1 Stanford University

Work in progress: Engineering graduates rank problem-solving as one of the most important skills they use in their careers. Despite the widely recognized importance of problem-solving, there is little evidence to suggest that we are teaching our students how to solve the complex problems they will encounter in their future careers. Part of the reason we lack such evidence is that almost no tools exist that measure meaningful dimensions of authentic problem-solving. We have developed an assessment of authentic problem-solving based on studies of how expert scientists and engineers solve problems. In the chemical engineering version of this assessment, students are asked to troubleshoot a flawed chemical process design; this requires them to make many of the same decisions that an expert engineer does when they solve real-world problems. In previous studies, we have validated the use of this assessment to measure differences between novice and more advanced students and to identify best practices for administering the assessment. In this study, we use the assessment to measure the problem-solving outcomes of three different versions of a capstone design course in chemical engineering: one that focuses on experimental design, one on product design, and one on traditional plant design. We discuss results from the experimental design course, as well as preliminary results from the product and plant design courses. This work is providing valuable information as to the problem-solving learning differences from different capstone design course experiences.