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Decisions About Teaching: What Factors Do Engineering Faculty Consider?

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Best of the NEE

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.441.1 - 12.441.16

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Paper Authors


Yi-Min Huang University of Washington

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YI-MIN HUANG is a Research Scientist for the Scholarship on Teaching element of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE). She holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Washington State University.

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Jessica Yellin University of Washington

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JESSICA M. H. YELLIN is a Research Scientist for the Scholarship on Teaching element of the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education (CAEE). She holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington with dissertation research on structural vibration and damping of acoustic noise in thin-walled structures.

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Jennifer Turns University of Washington

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JENNIFER TURNS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Technical Communication, College of Engineering, University of Washington. She leads the Scholarship on Teaching element of the CAEE. She is also a Faculty Affiliate with the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Decisions about teaching: What factors do engineering faculty consider? Abstract

This current research paper uses a cognitive science methodology for investigating the phenomenon of teaching decision making in engineering education. We ask engineering educators to identify two memorable, recent teaching-related decisions in terms of pre-active (planning) and interactive (in-class) stages. They then describe the situation, the process of making the decision, the factors that they took into account, and the outcomes of their teaching- related decisions. In this paper, we focus on time as the one specific factor that emerged across all the participants in this research study.


Decision making is central to the teaching of engineering, however, little has been written about the teaching decisions of engineering educators. We believe that the engineering educator community can benefit from insights into how to better prepare for teaching decisions in order to be an effective instructor because engineering educators are faced with teaching-related decisions on a daily basis.

We are particularly interested in studying engineering educator decision making because of the link between teaching decisions and critical issues in engineering education. In particular, teaching decisions represent a context for the use of information such as information about student diversity, student prior knowledge and misconceptions, and the variety of available pedagogies. We believe that the results of our study will enable the engineering education community to develop more effective ways to educate the educators about such information and how to use it. Further, we anticipate that by asking educators about their teaching decisions, we may trigger reflection, which in and of itself may lead to improvements in teaching practice.

By exploring the processes through which engineering educators make teaching decisions and the factors they consider, we can use decision making as a lens to understand their teaching practices and gain a better understanding of how to help engineering educators make more effective decisions about their teaching. We believe that this approach is particularly appropriate because it is a framework used extensively in the field of engineering (i.e., design decision- making) and thus may be a more familiar framework to discuss their teaching practices.

We chose to emphasize teaching decision-making using the following educational and psychological definitions. Sutcliffe and Whitfield1 have defined a teaching decision as “a decision made during the execution of the professional responsibilities of the teacher” (p. 16). In addition, teaching decision making also references the notion of “a decision as a commitment to act. Action is therefore the irrevocable allocation of valuable resources.”2

There are many challenges to studying decision-making because it is a subjective activity, making it difficult to research and study directly. While most engineering educators acknowledge that they make some explicit decisions, most of their decisions are invisible and

Huang, Y., & Yellin, J., & Turns, J. (2007, June), Decisions About Teaching: What Factors Do Engineering Faculty Consider? Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii.

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: © 2007 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