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Development and Implementation of a Reflective Journaling Method for Qualitative Research

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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

ERM Technical Session 1: Methods Refresh: Approaches to Data Analysis in Engineering Education Research

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Benjamin David Lutz California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo Orcid 16x16

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Ben Lutz is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. His research interests include engineering design pedagogies, conceptual change and development in mechanics, school-to-work transitions for new engineers, and efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering. His current work explores how students describe their own learning in engineering design and how that learning supports transfer of learning from school into professional practice as well as exploring students' conceptions of diversity and its importance within engineering fields.

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Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

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Marie C. Paretti is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

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The purpose of this paper is to describe the development and implementation of a qualitative method used to study the transition experiences of recent mechanical engineering graduates. The school-to-work transition is a critical point on an engineer’s career trajectory and involves substantial changes over a relatively short period of time. To date, however, the experiences of newcomer engineers have been especially challenging to capture through systematic empirical approaches. To address noted limitations, we developed a data collection strategy that captures regular participant reflections during an ongoing experience. We sent weekly emails to 12 recent engineering graduates during the first 12 weeks of their jobs and asked them to recount a significant learning event. Each week, participants discussed a significant challenge, accomplishment, or realization, describing the activity itself, the role of facilitators, and their own beliefs about what they learned. Findings suggest that weekly reflective prompts can be effectively used to capture the experiences and perceptions of recent engineering graduates as they move from school to work. Participants used the weekly reflections to provide rich descriptions of their experiences throughout the transition that offered unique insight into the conditions that prompt learning in practice. We argue that the reflective prompt methodology has promise for investigating the lived experiences of both recent engineering graduates and other populations of engineers that might be otherwise difficult to observe with traditional methods. We recommend further exploration of recent graduates’ experiences as well as those of other difficult-to-access, perhaps underexplored, populations of engineers.

Lutz, B. D., & Paretti, M. C. (2019, June), Development and Implementation of a Reflective Journaling Method for Qualitative Research Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32646

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