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Wednesday, July 3 • 1:30pm - 2:10pm
Touring the epistemic plane: Student question-posing in chemical engineering education

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Engineering education must walk a tightrope between examining ‘calculation ability’, and fundamental understanding - creating assessments which parse these can be challenging. In order to appropriately design and analyse pedagogies, interventions, and teaching methodologies, a theoretical framework to conceptualise student learning is needed. LCT's Epistemic Plane allows for a graphical description of how students experience the relationship between strongly/weakly bounded phenomena and approaches, and may allow insights into how to improve depth of learning.

This study uses the Epistemic Plane to examine and investigate the efficacy of an intervention in a 3rd year chemical engineering course on reactor design. A recurring and substantial issue during undergraduate engineering education is students’ adopting a pattern recognition route to problem solving, belying a poor grasp of the content and concepts being examined. This problem can be particularly pronounced in courses such as reactor design, which implement an algorithmic methodology to problem solving. Students can easily hide behind recognising the pattern of the algorithm, rather than grappling with the meaning and fundamentals behind said methodology. These superficial learning methods give rise to ‘correct answers’ but shallow understanding. Within the Epistemic Plane this represents a narrow transversal between the doctrinal and purist quadrants. We hypothesise that a more complete transversal of the Epistemic Plane may give rise to improved learning.

One assessment method which has seen application in courses susceptible to this ‘pattern recognition’ problem, particularly in medical education, is student problem-posing (usually in the guise of multiple choice question creation). In this method, students are asked not to answer questions posed to them, but rather to devise questions (and solutions) of their own, within particular subject parameters. In our study the lecturer assigned a problem-posing assignment to 3rd year chemical engineering students within the reactor design course. Students were requested to set up both the answers and complete model solution to a standard reactor design problem, including discussion of what concepts they intended to examine and how marks are allocated. They were then graded and given feedback on how well they examined the topic and whether they produced a ‘correct’ solution. As part of this study, student feedback, in the form of a questionnaire, was solicited. The discussions with students, student feedback, and assignment submissions were then used to attempt to trace the path the students’ traversed on the Epistemic Plane through completing this assignment.

The potential of problem-posing in the reactor design context is in allowing (and forcing) students to explore the algorithmic nature of reactor design from multiple perspectives, and in so doing enabling students to shift (collectively) towards more open-ended approaches (situational insight). That is, they need to conceive of the problem from their own experience (knower insight), simultaneously and iteratively set-up the question and solution, and consider both the ‘correctness’ of the mathematics, and not simply as a way to ‘game the system’, but also whether the question examines the content appropriately. This allows for reflective learning and contributes to student concept development, and concomitantly represents a more complete transversal of the Epistemic Plane, speaking to our hypothesis; although more data is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached.

This ongoing study aims to, firstly, demonstrate a teaching intervention which improved student involvement, understanding and self reflection. Secondly, this discussion hopes to illustrate the explanatory power of the Epistemic Plane in theorising and understanding how and why this intervention was successful, with a view to application in other modules.

Wednesday July 3, 2019 1:30pm - 2:10pm SAST
Room B47

Attendees (4)