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Examining Graduate Students’ Philosophies of Education: An Exploratory Study

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Research and Graduate Studies

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.556.1 - 23.556.18

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Paper Authors


Mary Katherine Watson Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Mary Katherine Watson is a PhD candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Georgia Tech (GT). Through support from a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, she has been working to improve the quality of sustainability education in CEE at GT through development and application of a variety of assessment tools and educational interventions. In addition to research in the field of engineering education, Mary Katherine is the founding president of the GT chapter of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Also at GT, Mary Katherine completed an MS in Environmental Engineering with research focused on biological treatment of organic surfactants. Prior to enrolling at GT, she received BS and MS degrees in Biosystems Engineering from Clemson University.

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Alexandra Coso Strong Georgia Institute of Technology Orcid 16x16

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Alexandra Coso is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Cognitive Engineering Center at Georgia Tech, where she is
pursuing a doctorate in aerospace engineering. She received her B.S. in aerospace engineering from MIT and her M.S. in systems engineering from the University of Virginia. Alexandra is actively involved in the ASEE Student Division and the Graduate Engineering Education Consortium for Students, and she co-founded a Georgia Tech ASEE Student Chapter in the fall of 2011. Her research interests include the integration of stakeholders into the engineering design process, development and evaluation of interdisciplinary engineering courses and programs, mixed methods research designs, and graduate student experiences in engineering programs.

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Deconstructing Graduate Students’ Philosophies of EducationToday’s graduate students represent the next generation of faculty. This particular generation ofgraduate students has participated in a variety of teaching styles and interventions, from lecture-based classes to problem-based learning to technology-centered instruction. As they enterclassrooms as instructors, they may choose to adapt one or more of these methods or derive theirown. These choices are based on a set of beliefs about student learning and teaching, in otherwords, the graduate student’s philosophy of education. This philosophy may be dependent ontheir previous experiences, exposure from a teaching practicum, and/or the values and norms oftheir professional community. While there are many studies related to courses on teaching andlearning methods for graduate students and the subsequent teaching opportunities, research onthe beliefs and experiences of graduate students, particularly in engineering, is limited. With thisin mind, we ask – what do these graduates define as their particular philosophy of education?And what do those philosophies suggest about the future of engineering education?To provide insights into the instructional practices that will dominate engineering education inthe future, an investigation was conducted in the Spring of 2012 to characterize graduatestudents’ philosophies of education. Students from a large, technical, research-intensiveuniversity enrolled in PhD programs within a variety of engineering and non-engineeringdisciplines, including aerospace engineering, civil engineering, environmental engineering,mechanical engineering, digital media, psychology, and management, were recruited toparticipate in a survey. The administered survey was based on the Educational PhilosophyInventory, which is a theoretically-grounded instrument. The instrument allowed a respondent’seducational philosophy to be classified as essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, socialreconstructionism, or existentialism based on responses to 28 questions. The EducationalPhilosophy Inventory was supplemented with additional questions to further analyze students’philosophies. For example, students were asked to classify their previous educationalexperiences, as well as their current teaching practices, based on provided descriptions of the fiveeducational philosophies. Data analysis will completed over the coming months to comparegraduate student philosophies based on several independent variables, including discipline,gender, past educational experiences, current teaching practices, and future career goals.Current graduate student educational philosophies foreshadow the types of pedagogies that willbe implemented in future engineering courses, given no formal teaching interventions. Whileeach of the five educational philosophies is theoretically-based, some may be more appropriatefor engineering education than others. For instance, emphasis of progressivists on problemsolving may provide students with critical thinking skills necessary to become successfulengineers, while perennialist approaches of lecture and discussion may teach students aboutfundamental concepts but leave them unequipped to solve complex problems. If graduatestudents prescribe to predominately traditional and conservative philosophies, then perhapsinitiatives are needed to educate graduate students about more contemporary and liberalphilosophies. Thus, examining graduate student educational philosophies can provide importantinsights for ensuring the future quality of engineering education.

Watson, M. K., & Strong, A. C. (2013, June), Examining Graduate Students’ Philosophies of Education: An Exploratory Study Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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