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Board # 97 : Investigating Peer Observers' Perspectives on Middle School Engineering Designers' Communication Challenges (Work in Progress)

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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

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Michelle Jordan Arizona State University

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Michelle Jordan is as associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. She also serves as the Education Director for the QESST Engineering Research Center. Michelle’s program of research focuses on social interactions in collaborative learning contexts. She is particularly interested in how students navigate communication challenges as they negotiate complex engineering design projects. Her scholarship is grounded in notions of learning as a social process, influenced by complexity theories, sociocultural theories, sociolinguistics, and the learning sciences.

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Mia DeLaRosa

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Mia DeLaRosa received her BA in in Elementary Education from Arizona State University in 2004. She went on to receive her Masters in Educational Leadership and Principal Certificate from Northern Arizona University in 2007. She is currently working on her EdD at Arizona State University. Mia is highly qualified to teach middle grades math, science, and language arts. Mia has taught middle school science in the Alhambra Elementary School District for nine years where she also leads after-school engineering clubs. Mia has been directly involved with district-wide initiatives including technology integration, Just In Time Assessments, curriculum pacing guides, and implementation of a research based, hands-on science and engineering curriculum. Mia has also worked closely with FOSS as a professional development facilitator. She also worked with Project WET at the University of Arizona Maricopa County Cooperative Extension as a curriculum developer and professional development faciltator.

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Effective communication is central to engineering design (Dannels, 2005; Cennamo et al., 2010). However, even professional designers struggle with in-team communication, with literature reporting misunderstandings, conflict avoidance, and persuasion (Cross & Cross, 1998). Young learners are likely have even greater difficulties navigating communication challenges when engaged in engineering learning projects. Middle school designers simultaneously regulate the design task, collaborative relationships, and their own engineering identity during a design project (Author, 2013). Yet, there is a gap in the literature about how communication is perceived by the students themselves. Little is known about middle school designers’ perspectives on their own communication challenges or their perspectives on their peer’s communication challenges.

In a design-based experiment, we compared the perspectives of collaborative middle school designers and peer observers assigned to their group during a three-day design-reflect-design process. On day 1 and day 3, the designers collaborated to design two distinct but similar marshmallow towers while their peer observer took notes about their communication. The peer observers used an observation instrument, recording notes about two social challenges, negotiating roles and responsibilities (Who’s doing what?) and evaluating progress (How are we doing?); and two task challenges, understanding the task (Are we doing this right?) and generating design ideas (How can we solve this problem?) (See Author, 2013, 2014; Jarvela & Jarvenoja, 2010; Kolodner et al., 2003). The designers then completed five reflection questions about their communication, while the peer observers met in a separate room to compare their observations. On day 2, peer observers collectively debriefed then gave their classmates feedback and suggestions for improving communication.

In previous analysis of the designers’ self-report data related to communication challenges (Authors, 2015), we found that these learners engaged in the focal design processes grew in their metacognitive awareness of their group’s communication patterns across an engineering design-reflect-design procedures, but not in their individual-level interactions. Middle-school students need a great deal of scaffolding and practice developing their collaboration skills since perspective taking and understanding diversity are not innate capabilities. Thus, in the current study, qualitative analyses focused on comparing designers’ perceptions of those of outsiders’ perspectives. Specifically, we asked: RQ1: What to peer observers notice and report about how the observed design teams negotiate communication challenges?

RQ2: How do peer observers’ noticings change from Day 1 to Day 3?

Analysis suggests that understanding learners’ perspectives on their own communication patterns – and the perspective of peer observers - may help educators and researchers design strategies to improve peer-to-peer communication and enhance engineering education.

Jordan, M., & DeLaRosa, M. (2017, June), Board # 97 : Investigating Peer Observers' Perspectives on Middle School Engineering Designers' Communication Challenges (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27966

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015