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Characterizing Framing Agency in Design Team Discourse

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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

Design in Engineering Education Division: Design Teams

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and associate professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program and in the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and a 2018 NSF CAREER awardee in engineering education research. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Jamie Gomez University of New Mexico

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Jamie Gomez, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer III in the department of Chemical & Biological Engineering (CBE) at the University of New Mexico. She is a co- principal investigator for the following National Science Foundation (NSF) funded projects: Professional Formation of Engineers: Research Initiation in Engineering Formation (PFE: RIEF) - Using Digital Badging and Design Challenge Modules to Develop Professional Identity; Professional Formation of Engineers: REvolutionizing engineering and computer science Departments (IUSE PFE\RED) - Formation of Accomplished Chemical Engineers for Transforming Society. She is a member of the CBE department’s ABET and Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, as well as faculty advisor for several student societies. She is the instructor of several courses in the CBE curriculum including the Material and Energy Balances, junior laboratories and Capstone Design courses. She is associated with several professional organizations including the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and American Society of Chemical Engineering Education (ASEE) where she adopts and contributes to innovative pedagogical methods aimed at improving student learning and retention.

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Martin A. Watkins University of New Mexico

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Martin A. Watkins is a PhD student in Educational Linguistics at the University of New Mexico. He earned his BA degrees in Deaf Studies (ASL/English Interpretation) and Linguistics from California State University, Northridge, and his MA degree in Linguistics from Gallaudet University. His research employs critical ethnography and discourse analysis to investigate language ideologies and language planning & policy in Deaf Education, particularly focusing on how signed language interpreters influence Deaf students' learning experiences.

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Tryphenia B. Peele-Eady Ph.D. University of New Mexico

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Tryphenia B. Peele-Eady is Associate Professor in Department of Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies, in the College of Education at the University of New Mexico. She specializes in African American Education and Ethnographic Research. Her email address is

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Purpose. To make course-based, undergraduate design projects more manageable, instructors often reduce or remove the open-ended quality, which in turn limits opportunities for students to learn to frame design problems. Here we introduce and characterize the construct, framing agency, which involves taking up opportunities to make consequential decisions about design problems and how to proceed in learning and developing solutions.

Methodology. We employed a multi-case study design, selecting cases of student design teams across different sites and levels, all in undergraduate engineering courses. Teams were audio/video recorded during their design process. We adapted a functional linguistics tool [1] to identify markers of agency in students’ design discourse, comparing and contrasting the cases to illuminate the nuances of framing agency. We also identified learning versus task-completion orientations.

Results. All students exhibited agency in some form, but not all exhibited framing agency. Analysis suggests that framing agency is commonly shared across participants and tentative in nature early in the design process. Students who exhibited framing agency tended to adopt a learning rather than task-completion orientation. Students who exhibited agency, but not framing agency, made decisions that foregrounded accuracy and efficiency at the expense of exploring tentative ideas, and tended to treat the problem as having a single right answer.

Conclusions. We argue that how students negotiate design problem framing depends on whether or not they consider the design problem relevant and authentic, the belief that each member brings different and potentially useful information to the task, and the opportunity to iterate design ideas over time. Framing agency provides a lens for understanding the kinds of design learning experiences students need to direct their own learning and negotiate that learning with peers in design projects.

Svihla, V., & Gomez, J., & Watkins, M. A., & Peele-Eady, T. B. (2019, June), Characterizing Framing Agency in Design Team Discourse Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32505

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