Engaging students with multiple problem-solving pathways for complex problems

Elizabeth Yuriev, John Burton, Shane Devine, Kimberly Vo, Sheryl Maher, Christopher Thompson, Martin Scanlon

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Problem solving is a multifaceted activity, influenced by cognitive,motivational, and behavioural factors. Students often believe that complex scientific problems have a single correct solution pathway, whereas in reality many pathways will reach the same end-point. One area, where complex problem solving is challenging to students, is molecular spectroscopy.

We hypothesised that, through the recognition and appreciation of multiple possible strategies for solving complex problems, students would explore their own understanding of the topic and improve their problem-solving skills. We have developed videos illustrating a range of strategies for solving spectroscopy problems (~100 recordings for 20+ problems). These videos demonstrate the approaches used by scientists with different levels of expertise (from upper-level undergraduates to professors) to solve problems of varying complexity. This collection allows students to see alternative sequences for solving the same problem, and that approaches used by an individual will differ based on complexity of the problem. The resources were designed to: (i) demonstrate alternative approaches to solving a problem; (ii) introduce students to the types of prompts to guide them through the process; (iii) encourage explicit reasoning necessary for successful conceptual problem solving.

Online and in-class engagement analytics were collected in 2017 and 2018. The effect of video recordings on student learning and skills were monitored via (i) surveys and qualitative student comments and (ii) analysis of assessments results.

In 2017, students demonstrated improved learning outcomes, compared to previous cohorts (for equivalent assessment). Students engagement with the resources was grade-motivated and/or limited to the intrinsically motivated fraction of the cohort. In 2018, modified assessment and communication strategies were used to increase engagement. Quantitative and qualitative findings from two rounds of implementation will be presented.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventACS National Meeting 2019 - Florida, Orlando, United States of America
Duration: 31 Mar 20194 Apr 2019


ConferenceACS National Meeting 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States of America

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