June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Educational Research and Methods
26.397.1 - 26.397.17
Constructing “calculus readiness”: Struggling for legitimacy in a diversity- promoting undergraduate engineering programHow do newcomers to engineering, such as engineering students, become recognizedmembers of the profession? Situated learning theory (Lave & Wenger, 1991) proposedthe notion of legitimate peripheral participation as central to a newcomer’s trajectorytoward membership in a community of practice. Left underdeveloped were issues of hownewcomers arrived at the periphery of a community; which other communitymemberships these newcomers might have; and what are the processes by whichlegitimacy was conferred or denied (Lave, 2008; Nespor, 1994; O’Connor, 2003). Theseare critically important issues in engineering education, given persistent attempts toincrease representation in the field of members of historically underrepresented groups.Our objective in this paper is to address these questions by considering the relationshipbetween institutional category systems and the processes by which legitimacy isconferred upon newcomers.To do so, we draw on two key theoretical constructs. Trajectories of membership(Bowker & Star, 1999; Lave & Wenger, 1991) describe the adoption of and conferral ofidentities upon newcomers. Trajectories of naturalization (Bowker & Star, 1999)describe the ways in which objects—including categories and categorization systems—enter into and become naturalized within a community of practice. Of particular interesthere is the way that people become tied to categories, a process that Bowker and Star(1999) call filiation.We conducted field-based ethnographic work centered on students, faculty, and staffinvolved in a diversity program in a prestigious U.S. college of engineering. The goal ofour data collection was to capture student experiences and the ways in which thoseexperiences were organized. We used a variety of fieldwork methods includingethnographic observations of routine activities, ethnographic interviews, and focusgroups. Our data include fieldnotes, meeting minutes, and video and audio recordings.Our analysis involved concurrent engagement in data collection and data analysis, usingConstant Comparative Analysis. We analyzed data from initial fieldwork early in theresearch process, leading to a preliminary “grounded theory,” which led in turn to furtherfieldwork to refine the theory, and so on through multiple iterative cycles.In this paper we will discuss a key finding related to the filiation work (Bowker & Star,1999) done by institutions, including the college of engineering and the university. Weshow how students became tied to an emergent category of “calculus readiness”—itselftied to a longstanding identification of engineering with mathematics. This categoryentered into relationships with other classification systems to produce a space in whichthe legitimacy of students in the diversity initiative was contested, both by the studentsthemselves and by institutions. We highlight the ways in which students and staff in thediversity initiative struggled for legitimacy within this space, and we discuss the multipletrajectories of membership that resulted from this struggle.By providing insight into the contentious process by which legitimacy is conferred onnewcomers to engineering, this paper takes a first step towards addressing the unjustunderrepresentation of many communities in the engineering profession.Bowker, G.C., & Star, S.L. (1999). Sorting things out: Classification and its consequences. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Lave, J. (2008). Situated learning and changing practice. In A. Amin & J. Roberts (Eds.), Community, economic creativity, and organization (pp. 283–296). New York: Oxford University Press.Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge.Nespor, J. (1994). Knowledge in motion: Space, time, and curriculum in undergraduate physics and management. London: Falmer Press.O’Connor, K. (2003). Communicative practice, cultural production, and situated learning: Constructing and contesting identities of expertise in a heterogeneous learning context. In S. Wortham & B. Rymes (Eds.), Linguistic anthropology of education (pp. 63–91). London: Praeger.
O'Connor, K., & Peck, F. A., & Cafarella, J., & Sullivan, J. F., & Ennis, T. D., & Myers, B. A., & Kotys-Schwartz, D. A., & Louie, B. (2015, June), Constructing “Calculus Readiness”: Struggling for Legitimacy in a Diversity-Promoting Undergraduate Engineering Program Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23736
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