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CAREER: Cognitive Models of Conceptual Understanding in Practicing Civil Engineers and Development of Situated Curricular Materials

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.272.1 - 23.272.5



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Paper Authors


Shane A. Brown P.E. Washington State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Shane Brown conducts research on cognition and conceptual change in engineering. He received his bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees from Oregon State University, both in Civil Engineering. His Ph.D. degree includes a minor in Science and Mathematics Education. His master’s degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of California-Davis. Dr. Brown is a licensed professional civil engineer and has six years of experience designing water and wastewater treatment facilities in central California. He was the recipient of the NSF CAREER award in 2011. Dr. Brown’s research focuses on theoretical approaches to understanding why some engineering concepts are harder to learn than others, and how the concepts are embedded in contexts.

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CAREER: Cognitive Models of Conceptual Understanding in Practicing Civil Engineers and Development of Situated Curricular MaterialsDeveloping conceptual understanding in science, mathematics, and engineering studentshas been identified as a priority by the National Research Council, with the theoreticallyfounded expectation that it will result in students who are more capable of innovativedesign and skillful application of foundational knowledge to diverse contexts. Thedevelopment of conceptual understanding is addressed by learning theorists as theprocess of moving from naive cognitive models of conceptual understanding to ones thatmatch those of experts. Cognitive models consist of a complex set of interwovencomponents, from concepts to personal epistemic beliefs. Progress in conceptual changeresearch relies on developing target models of experts’ understandings of phenomena.Both naïve and expert cognitive models can engage both individual and socially sharedcognitive processes, and knowledge of both processes is necessary to characterizeknowledge in a field. Situated cognition experts contend that knowledge exists in contextand has very limited meaning and usefulness when taught out of context. The objectiveis to develop a situated cognitive model of conceptual understanding in civil engineeringpractice and to develop and implement curricula targeted at core engineering conceptsthat are situated in and relevant to engineering design contexts. This objective will beaccomplished through the completion of three specific aims: 1) Characterize practicing engineers’ cognitive models of civil engineering concepts. About 400 practicing civil engineers across the country will complete existing concept inventories (CI) on concepts related to civil engineering, in subjects including, but not limited to fluid mechanics, mechanics of materials, probability and statistics, and statics. Approximately 100 practicing civil engineers will be interviewed using validated clinical demonstration interview techniques on their conceptual understanding, reasoning, and epistemic beliefs related to concepts strategically selected from CI results to illuminate the relevance of these concepts to engineering design. 2) Develop a situated shared cognitive model of conceptual understanding in civil engineering practice. Understanding the shared meanings that engineers have and developing a model of core engineering concepts requires collecting data through more long-term and thorough research methods. A graduate student will spend one year working as an intern for a civil engineering design firm to conduct ethnographic research on engineers’ shared and situated knowledge of fundamental civil engineering concepts. 3) Develop and implement research-based curricular materials. This project will utilize results from Specific Aims 1 and 2 to develop curricular materials, including assessment instruments, aimed at guiding students to the development of conceptual understandings that are appropriately situated within engineering design environments. Materials will be implemented in sophomore to graduate level civil engineering courses broadly.

Brown, S. A. (2013, June), CAREER: Cognitive Models of Conceptual Understanding in Practicing Civil Engineers and Development of Situated Curricular Materials Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19286

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