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Examining How Engineering Educators Produce, Reproduce, or Challenge Meritocracy and Technocracy in Pedagogical Reasoning

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education Division Technical Session 11

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Chandra Anne Turpen University of Maryland, College Park

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Chandra Turpen is a research assistant professor in physics at the University of Maryland in the Physics Education Research (PER) Group. Turpen’s work involves designing and researching contexts for learning within higher education (for both students and faculty). Her research draws from perspectives in anthropology, cultural psychology, and the learning sciences. Through in-situ studies of classroom practice and institutional practice, she focuses on the role of culture and ideology in science learning and educational change. She pursues projects that have high potential for leveraging equitable change in undergraduate STEM programs and she makes these struggles for change a direct focus of her research efforts. She also serves on several national leadership bodies: the Physics Education Research Leadership Organizing Council (PERLOC), the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Committee on Diversity in Physics, the National Learning Assistant Alliance, and the Access Network.

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Jennifer Radoff University of Maryland, College Park

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Jennifer Radoff is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland in College Park. She studies teaching and learning in K-16 STEM, with a focus on the interaction of conceptual, epistemological, and affective dynamics of learning. She is currently supporting educators as they work to create more equitable opportunities for students’ disciplinary sense-making.

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Ayush Gupta University of Maryland, College Park

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Ayush Gupta is Associate Research Professor in Physics and Keystone Instructor in the A. J. Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. Broadly speaking he is interested in modeling learning and reasoning processes. In particular, he is attracted to micro-genetic and socio-cultural models of learning. He has been working on how learners' emotions are coupled with their conceptual and epistemological reasoning. Lately, he has been interested in engineering design thinking, how engineering students come to understand and practice design, and how engineering students think about ethics and social responsibility.

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Hannah Sabo


Andrew Elby University of Maryland, College Park

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Andrew Elby's work focuses on student and teacher epistemologies and how they couple to other cognitive machinery and help to drive behavior in learning environments. His academic training was in Physics and Philosophy before he turned to science (particularly physics) education research. More recently, he has started exploring engineering students' disciplinary thinking and thinking about issues of equity and power.

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Cech (2014) and Slaton (2015) have documented meritocracy and technocracy as salient ideological pillars in engineering education. These ideologies are also observable in the engineering mindsets articulated by Riley (2008). Meritocracy and technocracy form structural conditions within engineering education that broadly contribute to reducing engineering students’ sense of social responsibility over their engineering degree program (Cech, 2014), which we see as doing harm. In order to prepare students to pursue engineering for social justice, Leydens and Lucena (2018) call for engineering students to learn to identify structural conditions. However, learning to see these structural conditions is non-trivial since students more readily understand direct violence/harm, than structural and cultural violence/harm (Lachney & Banks, 2017; authors). Additionally, those from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to struggle in recognizing the "culture of power" within disciplinary spaces (Delpit, 1988). So, we anticipate that it will be challenging work for engineering students to come to see the harm precipitated by these ideologies. Hitherto, there has been limited exploration (Lambrinidou & Caney, 2016; Lachney & Bank, 2017; Authors; Canney, 2018) of how and to what end these ideological narratives emerge in engineering students’ reasoning. Our paper contributes to this line of inquiry.

We are studying undergraduate peer educators preparing for their teaching within an introductory, project-based engineering design course. Concurrent to teaching, the peer-educators take a pedagogy seminar. Our data consists of audio-video records of class discussions and coursework in the pedagogy seminar. Using tools of discourse analysis (Jordan & Henderson, 1995) and progressive refinement (Engle et al, 2007), we will operationalize how we “see” meritocracy and technocracy in peer-educators’ talk and/or writing within particular classroom moments and assignments. We study these peer educators, in particular, because they are in a unique position to do harm if the ideologies of meritocracy and technocracy aren't challenged, and, likewise, they are in a unique position to do good if they actively disrupt these ideologies in the introductory design course.

Listening to engineering peer-educators talk about pedagogy within particular classroom moments offers unique opportunities for seeing how they produce, reproduce, or challenge meritocratic and technocratic narratives in reasoning about engineering work and engineering education. In our seminar context, course readings and instructional activities aim to reveal how meritocracy and technocracy can be dehumanizing, and work to cultivate a sense of social responsibility in educators for bringing (particularly marginalized) students into meaningful engineering work. We aim to critically examine how these instructional supports influence students’ reasoning. In this paper, we explore: (i) how do peer-educators reason with meritocracy and technocracy in making sense of classroom moments, (ii) how do meritocracy and technocracy get constructed in dialogue, and (iii) how might peer educators come to see the harm that these ideologies do? Understanding how these reasoning dynamics play out in discourse can have unique affordances for learning how to disrupt these ideologies and generate alternative ideological constructions. In this way, we have the opportunity to investigate not only peer educators’ reasoning, but also the instructional conditions that may influence it.


Canney, N. E. (2018), Engineers’ Imaginaries of 'The Public': Dominant Themes from Interviews with Engineering Students, Faculty, and Professionals Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah.

Cech, E.A. (2014). Culture of Disengagement in Engineering Education? Science, Technology, & Human Values, 39(1), 42–72.

Delpit, L.D. (1988). The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People's Children, Harvard Educational Review, 58(3), pp. 280-298.

Engle, R. A., Conant, F. R., & Greeno, J. G. (2007). Progressive refinement of hypotheses in video-supported research. Video Research in the Learning Sciences, 239–254.

Jordan, B., & Henderson, A. (1995). Interaction Analysis: Foundations and Practice. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 4(1), 39–103.

Lachney, M., & Banks, D. A. (2017). Teaching the Non-neutral Engineer: Pathways Toward Addressing the Violence of Engineering in the Classroom. Presented at the 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. Retrieved from (link)

Lambrinidou, Y., & Canney, N. E. (2016), Professional Formation of Engineers’ Conceptions of “the Public”: Early-Concept Exploratory Research Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25970

Riley, D. (2008). Engineering and social justice. Synthesis Lectures on Engineers, Technology, and Society, 3(1), 33-45.

Slaton, A. E. (2015). Meritocracy, Technocracy, Democracy: Understandings of Racial and Gender Equity in American Engineering Education. In International Perspectives on Engineering Education (pp. 171–189). Springer, Cham.

Turpen, C. A., & Radoff, J., & Gupta, A., & Sabo, H., & Elby, A. (2019, June), Examining How Engineering Educators Produce, Reproduce, or Challenge Meritocracy and Technocracy in Pedagogical Reasoning Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32778

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