Observed student team problem solving - a means to monitor and stimulate development of complex integrated professional skills

  • Anders Ahlberg, Educational Development Unit, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University

    M Wahlgren, Food Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University

    This submission presents a method developed to monitor and stimulate the progression of learning in professional study programs. Multi-stage cases based on real industrial situations were used to monitor a range of integrated core professional skills relating to subject discipline knowledge and professional conduct among teams of chemical engineer and biotechnology students. Separate sessions were arranged with student groups from pre-university classes, 1st, 3rd and 5th year of university studies. These cohorts were all monitored using the same case. We used cases that are relatively simple in terms of the presentation material (limited info added at each stage of the case) and analytical dimension (immediately discerned questions) but advanced in terms of conceptual complexity (cf. Leenders et al. 2010), so that each session lasted approximately two hours.

    The monitored aspects were:

    • Approaches to industrial problem solving;
    • Appropriate use of technical and scientific language;
    • Knowledge of chemistry, biochemistry and engineering;
    • Statistical reasoning;
    • The sense of economic consequences of ones actions;
    • Group behaviour, including project documentation;
    • Views on the professional engineering role in relation to other interacting professionals, companies and society (ethics & risk);
    • Quality and extent of questions asked during sessions.

    These foci include aspects stressed in national (Swedish) requirements on engineering study program outcomes, as well as values encountered in focus group interviews with students, alumni and teachers of the two study programs, along with input from interviews of potential employers of these students. Our integrative approach differs from progress testing of knowledge items that is commonplace in medical training (Muijtjens et al 2008) and from curriculum mapping used in engineering schools internationally (CDIO, Malmqvist et al.2005).

    Case class leader and case team observers (academics from the teaching teams) reported and discussed student team performance after each session and subsequently reported their findings back to the student teams and to us.

    At the 2012 ISL conference we aim to present the observed pattern of documented study program progression in professional skills and how this can be used to further support development of professional skills. One general observation is that with increased skills in professional problem solving and “businessmindedness”, ethical concerns became gradually less pronounced. We have therefore concluded that issues of ethics and risk need to be better integrated in teaching and learning in the latter part of the two investigated study programs. 


    progression of learning, progress testing, student problem solving observations.


    • M. Leenders, Mauffette-Leenders, and J. Erskine, 2010: Writing Cases, 4th ed., Ivey  Publishing, Ontario, Canada.
    • J. Malmqvist, K. Edstrõm, S. Gunnarsson, and S. Östlund, 2005: Use Of CDIO Standards in Swedish National Evaluation of Engineering Educational Programs in 1st Annual CDIO Conference Queen’s University Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
    • A. Muijtjens, L. Schuwirth, J. Cohen-Schotanus, and C. van der Vleuten, 2008: Differences in knowledge development exposed by multi-curricular progress test data.  Adv in health Sci Ed. , vol. 13, pp. 593-605.