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Engineering Identity and Project-Based Learning: How Does Active Learning Develop Student Engineering Identity?

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Engineering Identity

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Justin Charles Major University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Justin Major graduated May of 2017 from the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) with dual bachelors degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Secondary Mathematics Education. As a three-year undergraduate member of the UNR PRiDE Research Group, Justin researched student development of self-efficacy and identity in mathematics and engineering, active learning environments, and engineering teaming experiences. Moving forward, Justin will begin a PhD in Engineering Education, August 2017, at Purdue University under the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Within his graduate work, Justin plans to explore low socioeconomic high school students’ mathematics experiences and the affect they have on their choice of pursuing post-secondary engineering education.

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Adam Kirn University of Nevada, Reno Orcid 16x16

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Adam Kirn is an Assistant Professor of Engineering Education at University of Nevada, Reno. His research focuses on the interactions between engineering cultures, student motivation, and their learning experiences. His projects involve the study of student perceptions, beliefs and attitudes towards becoming engineers, their problem solving processes, and cultural fit. His education includes a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Bioengineering and Ph.D. in Engineering and Science Education from Clemson University.

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The purpose of this research paper is to understand how active learning, specifically project-based learning (PBL), affects students’ development of engineering identity.

Understanding how students identify as engineers is important for recruiting and retaining students in engineering programs. Prior work with students enrolled in an engineering statics course suggests students might develop an engineering identity as a result of participating in PBL environments. Additional work is needed to understand how specific PBL experiences affect students’ perceived creation of an engineering identity. To address this need, we examine the following question: How do student PBL experiences affect their perceived development of engineering identity? By understanding these results, researchers and practitioners can craft classroom experiences that directly influence engineering student identity development.

Sophomores and juniors enrolled in an engineering statics course (n = 131) at a western land-grant institution participated in a group project that required them to design, build, and test a bridge. Following project completion, students completed extra-credit reflective journal entries, with Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval, regarding their confidence, motivation, perceived outcome, and anxiety to design a bridge now, and for other projects in the future. Example questions were crafted as follows with confidence being replaced for each construct: - What parts of the experiment did you feel confident or not confident about designing? - After completing the experiment, what parts of engineering design do you feel more or less confident to be able to design in the future? Why?

A Inductive Qualitative Content Analysis (IQCA) was used to analyze student journal responses. IQCA involves three phases; preparation, organization, and reporting. In the preparation phase, data was collected for analysis, and individual journals were selected as the focused unit of analysis. Within the organization phase, a sub-sample of journals were open-coded to create a list of initial themes. Themes were then clarified through discussion and were given recognizable descriptions to enhance theme clarity . The remaining journals were analyzed and categorized into the generated themes. Results were then reported while describing the analysis process used for the final analytic phase.

Results from IQCA suggest PBL develops students’ perceived engineering identity through creation of engineering interest. Results of this work support previous work that shows PBL piques student interest in engineering, and aids in student creation individual interest through experiences that relate to their future goals in engineering. An example can be seen with James:

[After completing the project,] I am interested in prototyping more and learning more about manufacturing. Although I had some experience previously, I would like to learn how to implement the theory that is presented in class. - James

As we can see, James discusses how participation in the project further developed his interests related to manufacturing. Using these results practitioners can develop students’ interest, and further, their engineering identity, by providing students repeated interaction with problem-based experiences that are challenging and allow for knowledge-building.

Major, J. C., & Kirn, A. (2017, June), Engineering Identity and Project-Based Learning: How Does Active Learning Develop Student Engineering Identity? Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28255

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