Facilitating Teaching And Research On Open Ended Problem Solving Through The Development Of A Dynamic Computer Tool
Model Eliciting Activities (MEAs) are realistic open-ended problems set in engineering contexts; student teams draw on their diverse experiences both in and out of the classroom to develop a mathematical model explicated in a memo to the client. These activities have been implemented in a required first-year engineering course with enrollments of as many as 1700 students in a given semester. The earliest MEA implementations had student teams write a single solution to a problem in the form of a memo to the client and receive feedback from their TA. For research purposes, a simple static online submission form, a static feedback form, and a single database table were quickly developed. Over time, research revealed that students need multiple feedback, revision, and reflection points to address misconceptions and achieve high quality solutions. As a result, the toolset has been expanded, patched, and re-patched multiple developers to increase both the functionality and the security of the system. Because the class is so large and the implementation sequence involved is not trivial, the technology has become a necessary to successfully manage the implementation of MEAs in the course. The resulting system has become a kluge of bloated inflexible code that now requires a part time graduate student to manage the deployment of 2-4 MEAs per semester. New functions are desired but are either not compatible or are too cumbersome to implement under the existing architecture. Based on this, a new system is currently being developed to allow for greater flexibility, easier expandability, and expanded functionality. The largest feature-set being developed for the new system are the administrative tools to ease the deployment process. Other features being planned are the ability to have students upload files and images as part of their solution. This paper will describe the history of the MEA Learning System (MEALS) and the lessons learned about developing custom teaching and research software, and will explore how the development of custom software tools can be used to facilitate the dual roles of teaching and educational research.
ASEE, 2010, MEAs, open ended problems
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