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An Introduction to Grounded Theory: Choosing and Implementing an Emergent Method

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Student Division Innovative Research Methods Technical Session

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Paper Authors


Cassandra Groen Virginia Tech

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Cassandra is currently a PhD student in the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Her research interests include student engineering identity development, communication practices and discourse strategies, power negotiation, and student artifact development. She earned her Masters (2011) and Bachelors (2009) degrees in Civil Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD.

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Denise Rutledge Simmons P.E. Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Denise R. Simmons, Ph.D., PE, LEED-AP, is an assistant professor in the Myers-Lawson School of Construction and in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department, and an affiliate faculty of the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in civil engineering and a graduate certificate in engineering education – all from Clemson University. She is the 2016 recipient of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Assistant Professor and the Black Graduate Student Organization’s Lisa Tabor Award for Community Service. Using deep insights from a fourteen-year industry career and her strengths as a systems thinker, she is now developing and disseminating empirically-grounded models and strategies for improved human competence, motivation, and learning as it relates to the civil engineering profession and the construction industry. She is a discipline-based education researcher who passionately pursues research to develop an agile, ethical, diverse construction workforce enabled to lead, design, and build sustainable, intelligent infrastructure. Her mission is to transform the construction workforce and sustain change. To this end, she undertakes research that enables her to influence postsecondary education and workplace learning pathways; instructional, diversity, recruitment, and retention strategies; and federal, state, local and institutional policies and practice and that result in professional competency in civil and construction engineering.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa D. McNair is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as co-Director of the VT Engineering Communication Center (VTECC) and CATALYST Fellow at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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Over the past 40 years, grounded theory (GT) has slowly emerged as a prominent methodology for studying dynamic and unexplored phenomena. While this methodology provides researchers with systematic, yet flexible guidelines that promote and streamline theory development, it is this same open-ended and loosely-structured characteristic that convolutes the practice of GT research. Therefore, it can be particularly difficult for novice researchers to recognize and employ the multiple versions of this methodology in practice. To provide these individuals with a starting point for conducting grounded theory research, we organize this paper into three overarching sections: 1) introduction to the methodology; 2) a comparison between two types of grounded theory traditions; and 3) strategies for implementation. First, we establish an initial understanding of this methodology by providing a brief introduction of the GT methodology. Second, we compare and contrast two approaches of GT: traditional GT developed by Glaser and Strauss, and constructivist GT developed by Charmaz. Lastly, we provide strategies for methodological implementation as situated within a current GT study exploring professional identity formation in undergraduate civil engineering students. Strategies for data collection, organization, and analysis, model development, and theory abstraction are discussed.

Groen, C., & Simmons, D. R., & McNair, L. D. (2017, June), An Introduction to Grounded Theory: Choosing and Implementing an Emergent Method Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27582

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