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Emotional Indicators as a Way to Initiate Student Reflection in Engineering Programs

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Understanding Our Students

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.557.1 - 22.557.13



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Paper Authors


Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Joachim is an Assistant Professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is one of the leaders of the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), an interdisciplinary research group with members from engineering, art, and educational psychology.

His research interests span the formation of students' professional identity, the role of reflection in engineering learning, and interpretive research methods in engineering education.

He was the first international recipient of the ASEE Educational Research Methods Division's "Apprentice Faculty Award", was selected as a 2010 Frontiers in Education "New Faculty Fellow", and is currently a UGA "Lilly Teaching Fellow".

His teaching focuses on innovative approaches to introducing systems thinking and creativity into the environmental engineering program. In this context, he is involved in the development and implementation of the Synthesis and Design Studio series at UGA.

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Nicki Wendy Sochacka University of Georgia

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Nicki Sochacka is completing her doctorate at the University of Queensland. Her research interests span socio-technical transitions, with a particular focus on sustainable urban water management, and integrating socio-technical methods of inquiry into engineering practice and education. She currently holds a research and teaching position at the University of Georgia.

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Nadia N. Kellam University of Georgia

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Nadia Kellam is an Assistant Professor and engineering educational researcher in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Georgia. She is co-director of the CLUSTER research group. Her research interests include interdisciplinarity, creativity, identity formation, and the role of emotion in cognition.

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Emotional indicators as a way to initiate student reflection in engineering programsThis paper presents a framework of emotional indicators that was developed to stimulate studentreflection on critical learning incidents. The framework is explicated through early data from aqualitative study that employed these indicators in student focus groups.Reflection is increasingly recognized as central to student learning and professionaldevelopment. There is, however, a lack of defined, systematic strategies to stimulate purposefulstudent reflection and overcome the inherent difficulties of the engineering cohort to engage inreflective thought.Building on existing theories of reflection, this paper proposes a framework of emotionalindicators (See Figure 1). These are categories of feelings that accompany critical learningincidents and can, in turn, be used to trigger students' recall of those experiences. The paperdevelops this framework of emotional indicators centered around the five themes of novelty,challenge, progression, exploration and insight. This framework is then used to derive specifictrigger statements or questions that cover a spectrum from general exploration of overall learningexperiences to specific course-related aspects. These triggers, in turn, are used to elicit students'reflection in a wide range of formats from individual portfolio approaches to interactive groupreflection. The main purpose of these trigger statements in each case is to help students identifyand recall experiences that are crucial to their individual learning.In the example study the triggers were used together with a reflective focus group procedure(published elsewhere) to explore student learning in an interdisciplinary design studio withengineering and art students. The focus groups were digitally recorded and transcribed for thesubsequent interpretive analysis using the qualitative data software NVivo8. The paper draws onearly data from this study to; (i) explore and illustrate the above-mentioned five categoriesthrough a thematic analysis of the students' shared lived experiences, and (ii) demonstrate theusefulness of the procedure in eliciting students' memories of transformational learningexperiences.The analysis of the students' responses to this novel way of fostering reflection indicated thatidentifying emotions that accompany significant learning moments provides an easy andmeaningful access for students to reflect on their learning. This is discussed in contrast toapproaches where students are asked to reflect without any starting point or to recall learningexperience to fit a pre-defined abstract category of learning. Based on these results, the paperalso discusses the usefulness of the framework as a research tool for exploring engineeringstudents' learning through eliciting accounts of critical or transformational learning incidents.Figure 1: Framework with emotional indicators of critical learning incidents. The figure outlinesthe five categories of indicators, aspects in which they manifest in the students' experiences, andexamples of specific course features they are related to (examples are taken from the studypresented). The arrows trace four example pathways in this continuum from general to specificand demonstrate how this was used to develop a wide range of triggers for student reflection.

Walther, J., & Sochacka, N. W., & Kellam, N. N. (2011, June), Emotional Indicators as a Way to Initiate Student Reflection in Engineering Programs Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17838

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