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An Inclusive Process for Developing a Taxonomy of Keywords for Engineering Education Research

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.166.1 - 24.166.7



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Paper Authors


Cynthia Finelli University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Cynthia Finelli is Director of the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching Engineering and research associate professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. She actively pursues research in engineering education and assists other faculty at U-M in their scholarly endeavors. Her current research interests include studying faculty motivation to change classroom practices, evaluating methods to improve teaching, and exploring ethical decision-making in undergraduate engineering students. Dr. Finelli leads a national initiative to create a taxonomy/keyword outline for the field of engineering education research, she is past Chair of the Educational Research and Methods Division of the American Society of Engineering Education, and she is an ASEE Fellow.

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Maura J. Borrego Virginia Tech

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Maura Borrego is Associate Dean and Director of Interdisciplinary Programs in the Graduate School and also Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. From 2011-2013, she served as a Program Director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. All of Dr. Borrego's degrees are in Materials Science and Engineering. Her M.S. and Ph.D. are from Stanford University, and her B.S. is from University of Wisconsin-Madison. She directed the graduate program in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech for 18 months before accepting a 2010 Science and Technology Policy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is an Associate Editor for Journal of Engineering Education (2012-2014). Dr. Borrego has earned NSF CAREER and Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) awards for her engineering education research. Her results are published in 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals including Journal of Engineering Education and Review of Higher Education. She is the recipient of two Outstanding Research Publication awards from the American Educational Research Association (Education in the Professions 2008 and Doctoral Education Across the Disciplines 2011). Dr. Borrego is also a 2010 State Council for Higher Education in Virginia Outstanding Faculty Member in the Rising Star category.

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An inclusive process for developing a taxonomy of keywords for engineering education researchEngineering education research is a broad-based, rapidly-evolving, diverse, interdisciplinary, and internationalfield. There is a clear need for a standardized terminology and organizational system – a set of keywords– to mapthe field and communicate research initiatives. Such a taxonomy would provide multiple benefits, including:better connections between research and researchers; more accessible research results; recognition for andidentification of emerging research areas; a way to describe the diversity of engineering education research areas;and a common terminology with which researchers could frame their efforts. The goals of our NSF-fundedproject, then, are two fold: (1) to develop a comprehensive taxonomy of keywords that could be used to describeengineering education research projects, publications, authors, and peer reviewers, and (2) to establish aninclusive process for developing the taxonomy that invited the participation of the diverse global community.To achieve our project goals, we used an iterative process to develop and refine a taxonomy of keywords whichinvolved a variety of stakeholders in multiple settings. We were assisted in our efforts by a professionaltaxonomist and supported by an advisory board that included engineering education leaders and editors of severalengineering education journals. We intentionally designed an inclusive process, involving faculty, administrators,and graduate students from across the world, and we used this opportunity to develop a globally-relevanttaxonomy for use in the United States. We issued open calls for participation and advertised broadly for keyopportunities to be involved. We created transparent selection processes, criteria that encouraged diversity, andengaging activities that de-emphasized hierarchy and privilege of particular research areas. At conferencesessions, we adapted activities to be relevant in the local context for engineering education research.The project began with an international open call for whitepapers. Three teams were selected to provide sets ofkeywords from their work to form the basis for the initial draft of the taxonomy. A professional taxonomistmerged the three sets. Then, 51 participants, selected after another open call, worked at an intense two-dayworkshop to refine the taxonomy of keywords and the accompanying organizing structure. At a series of foursubsequent conference workshops (ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Research in Engineering EducationSymposium, European Society for Engineering Education, and Frontiers in Education), nearly 200 participantsattempted to assign keywords from the taxonomy to a set of abstracts from the previous years’ conference andaffiliated journals. These participants provided additional feedback that improved the taxonomy. After the firsttwo conference workshops, three teams of graduate students worked on virtual teams to further refine thetaxonomy.Overall, the project engaged more than 250 participants from 29 different countries at in-person workshops andconference sessions. The final taxonomy includes 17 categories and 7 levels of organization for the 1,105terms. We are hopeful that the taxonomy will be used broadly. Researchers and community members could usethe taxonomy to situate individual research initiatives in the broader field, see connections with others, and planfuture work. Journal editors could use the taxonomy to organize related research areas and to create a reviewerdatabase. Funding agencies could use the taxonomy to classify research portfolios, identify areas for capacitybuilding, frame solicitations, and identify and recruit reviewers for panels. P a g e  1 

Finelli, C., & Borrego, M. J. (2014, June), An Inclusive Process for Developing a Taxonomy of Keywords for Engineering Education Research Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20057

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