Research Problem

The main goal of engineering education is to prepare students for professional practice having competencies like - structuring open problems, engineering design skills, analyze and interpret data, work with interdisciplinary team, solve complex open problems, etc [1]. Today's workplaces also demand people with skills to solve non-routine complex problems [3]. To solve a non-routine complex problem, some of the important thinking skills involved are creative thinking, critical thinking, analytical thinking, interpersonal thinking skill. Based on the analysis of current research work in Computer Science & Engineering education most of the technology enabled innovative teaching techniques are focused on teaching content or concepts and less on developing thinking skills needed for an engineer to sustain in industry. The thinking skills are difficult for a student to acquire without teaching explicitly [7].

To develop complex problem solving competency, one of the important thinking skill is divergent and convergent thinking [8]. Divergent thinking seeks multiple perspective and multiple solutions to a problem, while convergent thinking is critically analyzing and selecting a best solution for a given problem [9]. The current focus of my research study is in developing a TEL environment to develop divergent and convergent thinking skills in students through open problem solving. Consider the following open, real world problem-

Example of open problem in Data Structures

"Given a bank, that has thousands of customer records and wants to build an online service for its customers to check their account details online. The requirement of the online service is that the customer should get the response quickly once the request is given. Design an efficient solution for the above stated requirement."

There can be different solutions to the above problem. Some of them are listed below:
  1. Use an array data structure to store the records in the order the customer account was created and use linear search algorithm to retrieve the customer account details when requested. This solution will take at the worst case O(n) time to search and generate response.
  2. Use hash table to store the customer records using customer id as the input to hash function to get the address of customer record. This solution in best case takes O(1) time, but in worst case if the collisions are more for a particular address, then the response time may be high.
  3. Use balanced binary search tree to store customer records and use binary search algorithm to retrieve customer record. This solution takes O(log n) time in all cases to search a customer record.

If students are asked to solve such open problems, they may come up with single solution may not be able to justify why the solution is better than other solutions, as students lack the thinking skills needed to solve such open problems. In this problem the students should be prompted to generate multiple solutions and then perform pros and cons analysis to find the efficient solution based on the requirements. This way students will be able to come up with better solution and justify the selected solution.The process of generating multiple solutions is knows as divergent thinking and the process of evaluating and selecting the most desirable solution based on pros and cons analysis is known as convergent thinking

Research Question

The broad research question is "Does teaching and learning of divergent and convergent thinking skill affect the acquisition of open problem solving competency?"


We propose an open problem solving process with integrated divergent to convergent thinking in each phase of open problem solving as shown in figure below.


[1] ABET Report E001 11/7/14 "Criteria for accrediting engineering programs." (2014).
[2] Amiel, Tel, and Thomas C. Reeves. "Design-based research and educational technology: Rethinking technology and the research agenda." Journal of Educational Technology & Society 11.4 (2008): 29-40.
[3] Autor, Frank Levy and Richard .J. Murnane, “The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 118, pp. 1278- 1333, 2003.
[4] Basadur, Min, and Carl T. Finkbeiner. "Measuring preference for ideation in creative problemsolving training." The Journal of applied behavioral science21.1 (1985): 37-49.
[5] Basadur, Min, Mitsuru Wakabayashi, and George B. Graen. "Individual problem-solving styles and attitudes toward divergent thinking before and after training." Creativity Research Journal 3.1 (1990): 22-32.
[6] Howard, Thomas J., Stephen J. Culley, and Elies Dekoninck. "Describing the creative design process by the integration of engineering design and cognitive psychology literature." Design studies 29.2 (2008): 160-180.
[7] Redish, Edward F., and Karl A. Smith. "Looking beyond content: Skill development for engineers." arXiv preprint arXiv:0802.2950 (2008)
[8] Guilford, Joy Paul. A Revised Structure of Intellect: Studies of Aptitudes of High-level Personnel. University of Southern California, 1957
[9] Cooperrider, Bryan. "The importance of divergent thinking in engineering design." Proceedings of the 2008 American Society for Engineering Education Pacific Southwest Annual Conference. 2008. Toggle Menu