The Role of Epistemological Beliefs and Cognitive Processing on Engineering Students’ Ability to Solve Ambiguous Problems

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The overall research question for this project is: What factors contribute to undergraduate engineering students’ ability to solve open-ended engineering problems? In order to answer this general question, we have four specific questions:

A1. To what level does students’ epistemic beliefs regarding the nature of knowledge account for ability to solve open-ended problems?
A2. To what level does working memory account for ability to solve open-ended problems?
B1. How do students describe the role of ambiguity in their decision-making processes during problem solving?
B2. What assumptions and beliefs guide the students’ responses to ambiguity and to their overall problem-solving processes?


This study is being conducted on junior and senior engineering students at a large, public, research intensive institution. The study is being conducted in a laboratory setting, not a classroom.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is mixed method. The quantitative component involves online and paper and pencil questionnaires. This component is comparative and is designed to generate evidence which is descriptive and associative/correlational (quasi-experimental). The qualitative component involves data collection using observation (personal observation and videography) during a think-aloud protocol and face-to-face informal interviews. This component will result in a description of the processes students use to solve engineering problems.

Quantitative measures will be analyzed by using t-tests between quartiles and regression analysis. Think-aloud and interview data will be analyzed using constructivist grounded theory. Think-aloud data will also be analyzed with semantic script analysis.


Findings will be posted as they become available.