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hopper, lebold & feghali, 1991

Hopper, M.E., LeBold, W.K., Feghali, A.A. (1991). A Hypermedia-Based Problem-Solving Approach to Engineering, Learning, Working, and Playing. In 1991 Frontiers in Education Proceedings, p. 73-78.


There is a need in engineering education to prepare students for lifelong career planning. Emerging computer technology may be able to play a role in addressing this need. To explore this possibility, we have been offering an experimental course in Engineering Career Planning for beginning engineering students. Students use computers to do assignments and store personalized guidance data. In addition, we developed a hyper-media program called the Engineering Career System to provide useful information during the planning process. Evaluations of the course have been very positive, and show the computer materials have played a successful supporting role in the course.

This project was supported in part by Purdue's Dean's Club "Creative Undergraduate Instruction Project", the Purdue Engineering Student Council and the Purdue Department of Engineering.


There is a major need in engineering education to improve, extend and personalize the academic and career development of students and graduates. This development is especially critical in the early formative pre-college and undergraduate years and has broader implications that extend to the graduate, professional, and post-college years as well. Various studies indicate significant concern and considerable dissatisfaction with academic advising and career guidance. The Study Group Report on Excellence in Undergraduate Education made the following recommendations:

All colleges should offer a systematic program of guidance and advisement that involves students from matriculation through grad- uation. Student affairs personnel, peer counselors, faculty, and administrators should all participate in this system on a continuing basis. We have previously recommended a strong advising system for first-year students. But in this recommendation we are confronting a broader problem: advisement is one of the weakest links in the education of college students (TSG, 1984)

The academic-career guidance problem is especially critical in undergraduate engineering education. In a 1985 National Engineering Utilization Survey (Engineering Manpower Commission, 1986) of engineering graduates, only 32% were "very satisfied' or "satisfied" with the quality of counseling, 28% with their academic counseling, and 23% with their career guidance. These three items were rated the lowest of the 30 undergraduate factors evaluated.

The primary goal of the Purdue Engineering Career Development Project has been to address this problem and improve the quality of undergraduate academic and career guidance in undergraduate engineering education. One part of the project specifically explores the feasibility of using emerging computer technologies to support the engineering career guidance process.

Now is an opportune time to take advantage of the high technology revolution in computer assisted career guidance systems (Maze, 1987) and in career oriented video technology systems. As a result, there has been a proliferation of increasingly high quality educational and career development materials that are available to assist in supporting the academic advising, career development, and life planning of engineering students. These emerging computer and video technologies are ideally suited to improving the areas most frequently identified by engineering students and graduates as the weakest links in their undergraduate education: academic advising and career guidance. The Purdue Engineering Career Development Project has set out to explore and establish the appropriate role these technologies can play within the engineering career guidance process.

Engineering Career Development Course

To provide an experimental context for more personalized academic and career development of engineering students, and an environment to explore the feasibility of using emerging computer technology to support the career guidance process, we created a pilot course, Engineering 195C - Engineering Career Planning for beginning engineering students. For each regular semester during the last two years, small groups (10-20) of first and second semester freshman engineering students have met on a weekly basis to gain insight into a wide variety of resources designed to help students begin their educational career and personal planning in engineering and/or related fields. This pilot course offering has indicated that intensive two hour per week sessions offered for the first eight weeks or last eight weeks of the semester are more effective than a one hour per week session distributed during an entire semester.

Course activities have been organized around the following basic comprehensive decision making process:

Stage 1. Define the Problem

Various introductory activities are designed to help the students define and understand the goal of the life planning task before them. In order to provide an overview of this task, the students are assigned the introductory chapters of the course text book, The Three Boxes of Life. (4) During the first lab exercise, the students become familiar with the Macintosh computers by completing an Apple Tour Program, and then receive a brief introduction to the use of Microsoft Word. This lab exercise prepares the students to produce an autobiography assignment designed to help them identify relevant facts, constraints and assumptions which they will need to consider during their life planning process.

Stage 2. Generate Possible Solutions

In order to engage in a broad, comprehensive career exploration process, the class visits Purdue's Career Resource Center where they are introduced to the American College Testing (ACT) software package called Discover, a general computer-based career planning and information system that supports mature decision making. While they are at the Career Resource Center, the students are briefed about methods to gather information They also complete a series of three interest inventories including the Strong Interest Inventory, The Purdue Interest Questionnaire, and a computer administered version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The data collected during this session is placed in a HyperCard stack to provide individual guidance through a personalized career and life planning process allowing each student to develop an individualized database of aptitude and interest information. This information is stored on floppy disks that can be updated and personalized to meet their individual needs.

Stage 3. Evaluate Each Solution

At this point in the course, students schedule a personal interview with the course instructor, where they discuss their academic, career and leisure plans. These discussions include factors like academic requirements for various programs and the relationship between the student's personal qualities and their various career planning options. This interview helps many students decide which field of engineering, or related discipline is most likely to fit their life planning needs.

Stage 4. Select the Best Solution

To provide a vehicle to help students in their final selection of an engineering career, we have developed an exploratory interactive hypermedia program called the Engineering Career System (Taghaboni, LeBold & Cheng, 1989). This HyperCard based project actively engages students with career exploration by providing them with information about different engineering disciplines, and experience with the specific nature of problem solving in those disciplines.

James Wilkinson, Director of the Harvard-Danforth Center for Teaching and Learning says that "interactive media are 'good with students who come in having different levels of knowledge, because it means you can give them a tool they can customize.' Software such as HyperCard, which can highlight key words and enable program authors to create 'a series of footnotes nested within each other,' allows the learners to 'look as far into the highlighted concepts as they want to,' Wilkinson says. 'And it's infinitely patient--it doesn't laugh at you,' a fact helpful to shy or inhibited students."(Lamber, 1990)

HyperCard files are designed around the basic metaphor of a "stack" of modifiable index cards which can contain combinations of integrated text, sound, and pictures (including graphics) with a minimum effort due to the HyperCard programming language called "HyperTalk". Students can browse through the stacks easily by pressing appropriate buttons. There is also on-line instruction which help students learn how to use the system. To eliminate confusion, the buttons are designed to be self-explanatory. The advantage of using HyperCard is that each student is able to read and browse through materials which are of interest to them. Because the software is extremely flexible, there is no prescribed sequence which has to be followed. This flexibility is especially important in encouraging academic and career exploration.

The current version of the Engineering Career System software contains information on the engineering fields offered at Purdue University, with a long range goal of including virtually all US engineering fields. The information provided for each field includes:

  1. an introduction
  2. career opportunities
  3. plans of study
  4. problem-solving
  5. organizations
  6. publications
    (LeBold, Hopper & Feghali, 1991)

Stage 5. Develop a Plan of Action

Toward the end of the course, a guest speaker from the University Placement Center visits the class to start them on their way to carrying out their career plan. The students are told about the interviewing process at Purdue, and are given a chance to create their resumé on an IBM PC which they will be able to update and use when they enter the Purdue Placement process in their Junior year at Purdue. In order to capture the results of the life planning process, the students are asked to write a brief description of that plan to present during the last class session.

Stage 6. Implement and Evaluate

During the final class, students gather as a group to share an oral summary of their life plans and their impressions of the course. They are reminded of the open invitation for continuing contact with all the resource people they have met during the course.


A comprehensive 250 item survey is administered at the end of the course for summative evaluation. Formative survey forms are used during the course to provide "on the spot" insight into the success of special activities. Results have been most positive and have encouraged us to explore and further develop the use of computer technology to support the engineering career planning process.

The summative course evaluation covered the areas of lectures, course assignments, lab exercises, and the overall course. Table 1 below reveals the mean ratings of personal importance of objectives in the course and the estimates of the extent to which the same objectives were achieved.

Table 1: "Trends in Mean Percent Ratings of Selected Topics of Students in Experimental Career Development Course (1989-1991) Very" Important Personally

Table 1: "Trends in Mean Percent Ratings of Selected Topics of Students in Experimental Career Development Course (1989-1991) Achieved to a "Very" Great Extent

Figure 1 describes the ratings to which the objectives were achieved. The figure compare data over a four semester timeframe.

Figure 1: Ratings of Extent to Which Students Felt Objectives were Achieved to a "Very" Great Extent

Table 2 provides detailed data concerning the trends and mean percent ratings of selected topics covered in the course.

Table 2: Trends and Mean Percent Ratings of Selected Topics by Students in the Experimental Career Development Course (1989-1991) "Excellent" and "Good" Quality of Presentation

Table 2: Trends and Mean Percent Ratings of Selected Topics by Students in the Experimental Career Development Course (1989-1991) "Extremely" or "Very Valuable" to Personal Learning

Figure 2 shows the students' ratings of the degree of the value they assigned to different sections of the course. According to the figure, during the last administration of the course, the overall course, the personal interviews and the Microsoft Word exercise received the highest ratings of personal value to the student, followed closely by the Resume activity and the Engineering Career System. The introductory session, the introduction to HyperCard exercise, and the life planning disk received the lowest percentage regarding personal value to the students.

Figure 2: Percent of 2nd Semester 1991 Students Rating Selected Topics as "Extremely" or "Very" Valuable Personally

The success of the course has been the personal opportunity that students have to share their concerns, experiences, and aspirations with their peers, faculty, counselors, and the various resource persons invited to participate in the course.

Future Directions

Our most immediate goal is to experiment with broader contexts to life planning for engineering students. In order to do this, we have begun the process of freeing ourselves from the constraints of using Macintosh as our only platform. HyperCard on the Mac II is not easily portable to other computer systems. We are in the process of converting our stacks to database like HIFF files which can easily be stored and transported across electronic networks. (HyperMedia Group, 1990) This improved approach to structuring and storing hypermedia information will provide the means for wider and more flexible dissemination of our growing database of engineering career information and data. It will soon be possible to port the Engineering Career System, and adapt it to an IBM Personal Computer, Next or Sun workstation.

An intermediate goal of our project will be expanding the Engineering Career System to be a Macintosh based prototype complete hypermedia guidance support system. Future versions of the Engineering Career System will utilize more extensive interactive video, sound, and graphics to provide students with even more interesting in-depth educational, career, and personal development information. The system will also expand to include computer-based learning environments, often called microworlds, which will be used for introducing students to problem-solving as practised in each specific field of engineering. (Lawler & Yazdani, 1987)

We eventually hope to provide tele-communications access to a national career guidance system with as rich a hypermedia environment as possible in formats that are not hardware or software bound. Such a computer guidance system will provide a easily accessible way to familiarizing students with both the value of working in fields and the specific character of problem-solving in technical disciplines. It will help engage students with possible careers as well as inform them about them.


This project addresses a critical area of undergraduate engineering education that has been consistently criticized and undervalued - academic advising and career development. A comprehensive program to meet career development needs within undergraduate engineering education is currently being conducted using emerging computer technologies. Significant improvements in educational and career planning have been observed, as measured by pre- and post-surveys. The implementation of computer supported guidance within the context of an experimental engineering career planning course has helped provide more effective selection of college majors and career fields, improved selection of courses, major fields, and more personalized academic and career planning. The currently emerging interactive-video and cross-platform development tools promise to provide even more potential for development of computer-based engineering career guidance support systems.


1. (TSG, 1984) The Study Group (1984), Report on Excellence in Undergraduate Education, Chronicle of Higher Education.
2. (EMC, 1986) Engineering Manpower Commission (1986), Toward the More Effective Utilization of American Engineers, American Association of Engineering Societies, Washington, DC.
3. (Maze, 1987) Maze, Marilyn (Ed.) (1987), Special Issue on Computer and Career Counseling, Journal of Career Planning and Development, 3:23-74.
4. (Bolles, 1978) Bolles, R. (1978) Three boxes of life and how to get out of them. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California.
5. (Taghaboni, LeBold & Cheng, 1989) Taghaboni, F., LeBold, W.K.,and Cheng, H. (1989). Interactive Hyper-Engineering Career Planning, Proceedings of the 1989 ASEE-IEEE Frontiers In Education Conference, pp. 135-138.
6. (Lamber, 1990) Lamber, Craig (1990). The Electronic Tutor. Harvard magazine, 93, p 42-51.
7. (LeBold, Hopper & Feghali, 1991) LeBold, W.K., Hopper, M.E., Feghali, A.A. (1991). A Hypermedia solution to a Hyper Problem: Personalized Computer Engineering Career System. Proceedings of the 1991 ASEE-IEEE Conference, p. 482-488.
8. (Hypermedia Group, 1990) HyperMedia Group (1990). The HIFF Specification: Hypermedia Interchange File Format. Heizer Software, Pleasant Hill, CA.
9. (Lawler & Yazdani, 1987) Lawler, R. W. & Yazdani, M. (1987) Artificial Intelligence and Education. Ablex, Norwood, NJ.

Mary E. Hopper | MEHopper@TheWorld.com [posted 01/01/01 | revised 02/02/02]