Students’ Task Understanding during Engineering Problem Solving in an Introductory Thermodynamics Course

  •  Oenardi Lawanto    
  •  Angela Minichiello    
  •  Jacek Uziak    
  •  Andreas Febrian    


Understanding problems or tasks is a critical step in any problem-solving activity and the heart of self-regulated learning. When encountering a problem, students draw upon information available in the environment, along with knowledge, concepts, and perceptions derived from prior learning experiences, to interpret the demands of the task. Interpretation of tasks is, therefore, a key determinant of the goals set while learning, strategies selected to achieve those goals, and the criteria used to self-assess and evaluate outcomes. The purpose of this study is to better understand engineering students’ self-regulation in task interpretation processes while engaged in problem solving in an introductory engineering thermodynamics course. Two research questions guided the study: (1) What are the gaps, if any, between the instructor’s and students’ interpretation (explicit and implicit task features) of a problem-solving task?; and (2) How do students’ task interpretation (explicit and implicit) change after engaging in self-evaluation of their problem-solving processes? One hundred twelve (112) second year engineering undergraduates voluntarily participated in the study. Analysis of the data collected revealed a significant difference between the instructor’s and students’ task interpretation of the assigned problems. Furthermore, the analysis showed that students’ had a higher ability to identify the explicit parts of problem tasks than implicit ones. Students were able to grasp 63 to 77 percent and 39 to 49 percent, respectively, of the explicit and implicit information that was presented to them while engaged in problem-solving activities.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.