100MPSstrategy - Open-Ended Problem Solving An...

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Open-Ended Problem Solving An Evidence-Based Strategy O pen-ended problems are found in every engineering discipline. In some way that makes sense. Things in the real world seldom have labels that say “THIS IS A PROBLEM. SOLVE IT OR DIE!” If the real world did, it would be a noisy place. Very noisy. Nearly every single engineered thing is a response—a “solution”— to some problem. Considering that new engineering things continue to appear in abundance, it would seem that we are surrounded by problems—whether we realize it or not. Yet even in a world filled with problems, rarely are engineers given a problem that is gift-wrapped with a neat, boxed answer. Problems in the real world are often considered “open-ended” because: There might be more than one “right” answer There might be more than one method to obtain “right” answer Even the “right” answer can be wrong if not done right Even “right” answers done right can be disregarded if not understood The effort in addressing such a problem can vary dramatically There is a possibility that the problem is, for all practical purposes, impossible There is the possibility that the problem being addressed is the “wrong” one There is the possibility that the “right” problem remains unknown There is the possibility that what is “right” and “wrong” for now may change in the future The list goes on. To make matters worse, engineers are expected to operate in this ambiguity. There is hope, though. As it turns out, experts work well in ambiguity because they often employ a strategy. Strategies take a while to finesse. A lifetime is not unusual. Consequently, in this class, you are introduced to a strategy for open-ended problem solving. It’s a start. This particular strategy is well recommended by educators in engineering. Please read on. Excerpts from “An Evidence-Based Strategy for Problem Solving,” Donald Woods, Chemical Engineering Department, McMaster University, in Journal of Engineering Education , October 2000, pp. 443 –453. Is a Strategy Useful? Since there are so many different strategies and since few are supported by research evidence, is it useful to have a strategy to solve problems? On one hand, some authors noticeably avoid providing a strategy; they prefer to use the word heuristics. Some suggest that using a strategy is not useful because the strategy suggest a linearity that is not typical of the actions successful problem solvers use when they attack difficult problems Non-linearity in the application of the stages in a strategy is well documented. Successful problem solvers do not use the stages sequentially. On the other hand, using a strategy has been proven to be
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This note was uploaded on 11/07/2010 for the course ME 100 taught by Professor Jasondaida during the Fall '07 term at University of Michigan.

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100MPSstrategy - Open-Ended Problem Solving An...

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