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Board 42: What Engineering Students Think of Knowledge in Their Discipline and How to Measure It: An Exploratory Study

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Educational Research and Methods Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Jinjushang Chen Florida State University

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My research examines how the concepts of epistemic beliefs of engineering students work together with their academic performance. My current research focuses on refining the measurement of students’ epistemic beliefs.

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Jeannine E. Turner Florida State University

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I am an Associate Professor in Learning and Cognition at Florida State University. My research focuses on understanding the interactions of engineering students' motivation, emotions, beliefs, self-regulation, and achievement.

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Min Tang College of Education, Learning and Cognition Program,Florida State University

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The research interests of mine are: 1) to understand teachers’ pedagogical practices and the potential effects of those practices on students’ critical thinking and epistemic beliefs in engineering domain, 2) to quantify epistemically-related emotions that occur during the epistemic activity, 3) to explore the best pedagogical practices to improve the efficiency integrating classroom project-based learning and students’ real-world problem-solving practice.

I have MS degree from Florida State University in Curriculum and Instruction and BA degree from China Nanchang University in English.

I speak English, Chinese, and some Japanese. I am a proactive person. If you are interested in my research topic, please feel free to contact me via email:

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This research paper describes an exploratory study to understand engineering students’ epistemic beliefs as well as the belief-measures. Recently, “engineering epistemologies” emerged as one of the five research areas for the burgeoning discipline of engineering education research. Epistemic beliefs, under this framework, refer to one’s beliefs about what knowledge is and what knowing is in the context of engineering disciplines. An understanding and appreciation of epistemology are needed to uncover students’ philosophical and psychological divergences towards learning and, thus, can help cultivate students’ skills to evaluate and justify their own/others’ ideas, opinions and beliefs. However, issues related to the poor reliability and factorial validity of self-reported instruments of epistemic beliefs cast doubt over the findings of any study that uses those measures. Our past study on engineering students’ personal epistemology also suggested the inadequacy of those quantitative measures, especially in terms of capturing facets of engineering students’ epistemic beliefs. Therefore, in this study, we adopted a qualitative approach to investigate the contextual nuances specific to the engineering domain that affect students’ interpretation of the questionnaire items and understanding of epistemic beliefs. Quantitative data from our past study were used to inform the interview question construction as well as to triangulate the findings. Fifteen undergraduate engineering students (11 males, 4 females) participated in the interview. From five categories of engineering majors (mechanical, civil, chemical/biomedical, electrical, industrial/manufacturing engineering), we interviewed three participants in each major. Using semi-structured interviews, we used the technique of cognitive interviewing. Hofer’s Discipline-Focused Epistemological Beliefs Questionnaire was used as the basis of the interview protocol. This instrument measures students’ discipline-specific epistemic beliefs in terms of four dimensions: Certainty/Simplicity of Knowledge, Source of Knowledge, and Justification for Knowing, and Attainability of Truth. Six items from the four dimensions were selected to construct the cognitive interview protocol. Open-ended questions about students’ contextual awareness of epistemic beliefs, and their epistemic perception of experts in the field, were asked to elicit more information about their epistemic beliefs. Initial findings suggest that although the cognitive-validity of most items were good, we found belief-discordance between what students think the disciplinary knowledge should be and what they perceive of knowledge taught in school. Students commonly discredit subjectivity of knowledge in defining truth in the discipline, while embracing a certain level of uncertainty in knowing, in general.

Chen, J., & Turner, J. E., & Tang, M. (2019, June), Board 42: What Engineering Students Think of Knowledge in Their Discipline and How to Measure It: An Exploratory Study Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32347

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