2 responses to “Open Ended Questions”

  1. teckdeck2008

    This an interesting topic because I like the idea. My issues comes when you put it in exams. I have always had trouble on exams and almost always bump up against the time limit that professors have set. If an open ended question were to be on the test it would cause issues. However, in the case you mentioned about group projects I really like the concept. I actually feel like if we had that type of thing count for more I would do better in my coursework, and would be a better indicator of whether or not you can be a good engineer.

  2. ferd

    Great students do not necessarily make great engineers. Great students can memorize what they need to do well on tests, but engineers need to think about how’s and whys and realize that the real world is not solved with textbook examples.

    When training future engineers I agree with most curriculums that begin by confining learning to proven facts and formulas. But before graduating (at any level, including Associate Degree) students need to be challenged with open-ended problems. That’s what they will face in the real world, so they need to learn to apply concepts (not just look for a textbook answer). Facts and formulas are great tools, but we must also teach how to use those tools.

    Student standing vs. ability to apply tools proves that our grading systems often fail to predict future success, although we’d like it to. During my sophomore year I was fortunate to have two professors prove it to us. Sophomore year is when many engineering students become discouraged, and these professors wanted to keep the true talent in school. So they collaborated on a design project that was only moderately constrained – we were given some parameters and some performance expectations but were allowed to devise almost any solution. They created teams via grade averages, so some teams had all A students while others had all struggling students. At first we students assumed that the A teams would perform best while the struggling students were doomed. But when we had to demonstrate our solutions, the two best performing teams were the ones made of struggling students. I was on one of those struggling teams while my roommate was on an A team. I tried to help him with his team’s design when it wouldn’t work, but kept running up against an apparent lack of application ability. Since then his career started much better than mine did, but over the years he’s actually had less success. When I taught I tried to emphasize application and problem-solving over fact and formula memorization. Engineering is not about being able to spit out facts and figures – it’s about knowing how to use all of your available tools to create acceptable and on-time solutions.