Indispensable resource? A phenomenological study of textbook use in engineering problem solving

Christine S. Lee, Nathan J. Mcneill, Elliot P. Douglas, Mirka E. Koro-Ljungberg, David J. Therriault

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Background: Textbooks play an important role in engineering education, influencing instructors' pedagogical approaches and providing much of the information students learn. Research has explored students' recollections of the roles that textbooks played in their educational experiences, but how students actually use textbooks remains largely unexplored. Purpose: This phenomenological study describes engineering students' textbook use during problem-solving activities. This study directly examined how students employed a textbook in order to generate detailed descriptions of students' behaviors, approaches, and reflections regarding their actual problem-solving experiences. Method: Ten senior materials engineering students (8 males and 2 females) were asked to think aloud while solving engineering problems. Follow-up retrospective interviews regarding the think aloud session were conducted to gain in-depth information on students' textbook use during the problem-solving activities. Results: Students used the textbook primarily to find information related to problem constraints that were explicitly stated in the problem. Furthermore, textbook example problems exerted a strong influence on students' problem-solving processes. Students also reported limitations of the textbook, contrasting it to the diversity of resources available via the Internet. Conclusions: This study provides insight into students' textbook use during engineering problem-solving activities. Students' limited application of the textbook during problem solving suggests that textbooks may not be serving their intended purposes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-288
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Phenomenology
  • Problem solving
  • Textbook

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Indispensable resource? A phenomenological study of textbook use in engineering problem solving'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this