June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Educational Research and Methods
13.213.1 - 13.213.16
Applying “Cultural Consensus Analysis” to a Subgroup of Engineering Educators Abstract
In this paper, we review the theoretical premises of cultural consensus analysis and offer a detailed description of its methodological components, including data collection and analytical procedures. We demonstrate how this quantitative method drawn from cultural anthropology could be used in engineering education research. Our findings indicate that a measurable amount of consensus regarding beliefs about effective teaching exists among the engineering educators in our study. According to the mathematical criteria of the cultural consensus model, this population constitutes a cultural group. Further, the beliefs listed and prioritized by respondents indicate that a coherent cultural domain exists for “effective teaching”. The wider implications of this research include not only potential applicability of this method within engineering education research but also a critical analysis of variations among engineering educators and a contribution to the emerging discourses of engineering education as a “culture”.
1. Introduction Some researchers have suggested that engineering education may be described as a “culture” in which knowledge, beliefs and practices are shared.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Less attention has been paid to the nuances within engineering education, the variability in the degree to which members accept or share a base of knowledge, beliefs and practices. Quantitative methods can be used to test whether cultural constructs are shared among some engineering educators. One anthropological research method, “cultural consensus analysis,”6 measures the extent to which group members agree or disagree about beliefs or practices. Specifically, to what extent do individuals agree or disagree with the group? In our case, do engineering educators share beliefs about teaching? Can we conceptualize them as a cultural group, based on their beliefs, or are their beliefs idiosyncratic and random? To answer these questions we began researching a subgroup of engineering educators. We identified attendees at the 2006 “Frontiers in Education” (FIE) conference as a “subgroup” of engineering educators because the annual conference is devoted to improving engineering education (for example, the conference theme for FIE 2008 is “Racing toward Innovation in Engineering Education”). Given this association, do these members share a cultural model about what constitutes effective teaching? And if so, how might their beliefs differ from other engineers who do not attend conferences specific to engineering pedagogy? These questions motivate us to study “intracultural variability” – the extent to which group members agree and disagree. We suggest, following cognitive anthropological theory, that agreement or “shared knowledge” can be measured and is an indicator of shared culture.
The culture of engineering education, however, is varied and diverse, contextual and dynamic. This analysis presents a snapshot of one cultural construct. Just as we specifically examine one subgroup of engineering educators (many of whom, in the qualitative interviews, expressed a fluency in pedagogical discourses and eloquently described situationally-specific modes of learning/teaching), other subgroups of engineers may have strongly differing ideas about how to effectively teach. One objective of this paper is to bring data to bear on the idea of an “engineering education culture”. Based on evidence presented below, the “culture of engineering education” is not monolithic; rather, data show that pockets of instrumental actors
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