6 responses to “Open Ended Questions”

  1. Cherish The Scientist

    It’s a tradeoff. IMO, the typical lab structure is a horrible place to ask open-ended questions because 1) students really are not given time to think about things and 2) you can’t expect a particular answer. In other words, if they’re trying to figure out how to evaluate something in an open-ended question, they’re going to need time to tinker and mess with things – something often not available in a lab where their time is seriously confined. This can and often will mean they’ll come up with unexpected approaches to things. Those things may not be what you wanted them to come up with, but they’re not necessarily wrong, either. It then becomes incumbent upon you to verify if they’re correct or not. Therefore, if you’re expecting a particular answer or solution, you’re better off asking guided questions.

    The other danger is jumping to the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy before your students are comfortable at the lower levels. So, as an example, I would probably take freshman or sophomores and give them more factual information and fewer analysis questions. A senior, however, may have a lot more in the way of analysis and fewer questions on factual information. Even so, there will be students at both ends that will struggle. Your global thinkers will have a tough time with memorization, and your sensing/sequential learners will really struggle with the analysis (and there are a lot of those in engineering).

    Anyway, I do agree that asking open-ended questions is a lot better for analysis, but then I think you need to rethink how you’re approaching the lab, as well. You’ll need to make sure that how the lab is presented is representative of how those analysis skills would be utilized in a real-world setting. If you’re expecting students to take a ‘cook-book’ lab and apply good analysis skills, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

    1. Cherish The Scientist

      Also, FWIW, I like the idea of having a cook-book lab to teach basics followed by a lab which is basically being given a problem to solve using the knowledge they acquired. Therefore, you’re getting them the basics first, then expecting them to use those skills analytically.

    2. GEARS

      I guess I didn’t explain that too clearly. I don’t give open ended questions per-say in the lab. But in the assignments leading up to the lab and on comprehensive exams, i do give them open ended questions.

  2. gasstationwithoutpumps

    There needs to be a mix of basic skills and design problems. I’ve seen at my own university that computer engineering does an excellent job of mixing in design problems from early on, computer science does it in later classes, and EE never seems to do it at all (students see their first design problem in the senior design project, and are totally unprepared). I imagine that this varies enormously from school to school, depending where the good teachers are (our EE faculty were chosen purely on research publications it seems, and never developed a teaching culture).

    1. GEARS

      GSWOP, I fee we skew towards the latter (which I’m trying to change). I definitely don’t think research is the only thing that faculty should be chosen for. I’ve raised that issue here when it’s come up and some people (top-notch researchers) look at me like I’m crazy and some people (like the dean) seem to agree.

      I think you can always find people that can do good research. But finding someone that’s good at teaching and research is a keeper to me.

  3. Jacob

    Another issue to consider is the language barrier. International students often have a good grasp of English but parsing a vague question like “What does[sic] the results from Mohr’s Circle tell you about the loading of the beam?” can be tricky even for a native speaker. Because this is a sort of loaded question where there’s an answer that the author is expecting you to see and write about, but isn’t asking for directly.

    There are many “true” answers to this question, but only a few of them would probably be marked “correct”. So you have to see through the question to find out what it is you’re actually being asked to write.

    For example, I could say that “Mohr’s circle tells me that stresses in the beam can be broken up into normal and shear components”. I could also say that “Mohr’s circle tells me that the maximum in-plane shear stress in the beam is X, and the maximum normal stess is Y”. Or “the results from Mohr’s circle tell me that the beam will not exceed its yield stress”. Perhaps I might also want to talk about the angle at which the maximum shear stresses occur, or if it’s a 3-dimensional problem, about how there are multiple different maximum stresses and how they act.

    A native English speaker might brush these issues aside and assume that obviously what’s being asked is the question that they feel is most relevant, and they might be happy to write a few paragraphs to explain their answer. But someone without an English background can struggle because it isn’t immediately obvious to them that the question is being deliberately vague; instead they’ll think that they just haven’t understood it correctly. And then they might have more difficulty formulating an appropriate answer, even if they understand the engineering material perfectly well.