June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Educational Research and Methods
26.171.1 - 26.171.14
An Analysis of Engaged Thought through the Lens of Undergraduate ResearchThe development of engaged thought (a term that encompasses critical and reflective thinking) isgenerally agreed to be an important goal for the education of future engineers. Engaged thoughtnaturally develops over time and through experience, but debates still exist regarding how wellthese skills can be developed or generalized, and if so, how to best nurture these skills. Manyscholars have previously asserted the plethora of benefits associated with student participation inundergraduate research, including cognitive, personal, and professional development. As thevery nature of the research process as a whole mirrors what many individuals describe as theirperceptions of critical thinking, the undergraduate research experience lends itself particularlywell as a lens through which to analyze perceptions and development of engaged thought forengineering students.This study presents a multi-student case study that explores the way nine undergraduate studentsparticipating in a 10-week Materials Science and Engineering Research Experience forUndergraduates program view the research process with respect to their use and development ofthe elements of engaged thought as well as their understanding of how and why engaged thoughtis used in engineering. Each student participated in a series of four interviews throughout thecourse of their research program and discussed their research, their beliefs about criticalthinking, and their perceptions of its use. These perceptions were viewed through the context ofthe project on which each student was working. Additional information was obtained throughsurveys with the faculty and graduate student mentors assigned to each student. These surveysasked for the mentors’ perceptions of critical thinking as well as their general approaches towardmentorship and their assessment of their student’s development.Each student’s case establishes a vignette to illustrate their own personal experience throughoutthe research process and these cases individually stand as representative cases for theexperiences of an average undergraduate student conducting research. However, a cross-caseanalysis will provide insight regarding trends amongst these perceptions and potential impactsthat various factors such as mentorship style or mentor attitudes and perceptions may have onthose of their students. While significant evidence already indicates that participation inundergraduate research programs provides a boost in cognitive abilities and provides afoundation for future success, the case study approach used will help to illuminate which factorshelp contribute more strongly to the development of engaged thought, and consequently, how tobest support that cognitive growth.
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