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Exploring the Nexus Between Student's Perceptions of Sociotechnical Thinking and Construction of their Engineering Identities

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Sociotechnical Thinking I: Classroom Experiences, Identity, and Theory

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

25

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/37155

Download Count

21

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Paper Authors

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Stephanie Claussen San Francisco State Unviersity

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Stephanie Claussen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at San Francisco State University. She previously spent eight years as a Teaching Professor in the Engineering, Design, and Society Division and the Electrical Engineering Department at the Colorado School of Mines. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005 and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Her current engineering education research interests include engineering students' understanding of ethics and social responsibility, sociotechnical education, and assessment of engineering pedagogies.

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Janet Y Tsai University of Colorado Boulder Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-2917-0367

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Janet Y. Tsai is a researcher and instructor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research focuses on ways to encourage more students, especially women and those from nontraditional demographic groups, to pursue interests in the field of engineering. Janet assists in recruitment and retention efforts locally, nationally, and internationally, hoping to broaden the image of engineering, science, and technology to include new forms of communication and problem solving for emerging grand challenges. A second vein of Janet's research seeks to identify the social and cultural impacts of technological choices made by engineers in the process of designing and creating new devices and systems. Her work considers the intentional and unintentional consequences of durable structures, products, architectures, and standards in engineering education, to pinpoint areas for transformative change.

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Kathryn Johnson Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0001-9771-7718

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Kathryn Johnson is a Professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the Department of Electrical Engineering. In the Fall 2011, she was a visiting researcher at Aalborg University in Denmark, where she collaborated on wind turbine control research and experienced Aalborg’s Problem-Based Learning method. She has researched wind energy control systems across a range of areas since 2002. Partially inspired by her time at Aalborg U. she has applied experiential learning techniques in several wind energy and control systems classes and began engineering education research related to social justice and sociotechnical thinking in engineering starting in Fall 2014.

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Jenifer Blacklock University of Colorado Boulder

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Dr. Jenifer Blacklock is the director of the CU Boulder and Western Colorado University partnership program for both Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science.

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Jon A. Leydens Colorado School of Mines

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Jon A. Leydens is Professor of Engineering Education Research in the Division of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines, USA. Dr. Leydens’ research and teaching interests are in engineering education, communication, and social justice. Dr. Leydens is author or co-author of 40 peer-reviewed papers, co-author of Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (Morgan and Claypool, 2010), and editor of Sociotechnical Communication in Engineering (Routledge, 2014). In 2016, Dr. Leydens won the Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education Award from the National Academy of Engineering, along with CSM colleagues Juan C. Lucena and Kathryn Johnson, for a cross-disciplinary suite of courses that enact macroethics by making social justice visible in engineering education. In 2017, he and two co-authors won the Best Paper Award in the Minorities in Engineering Division at the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference. Dr. Leydens’ recent research, with co-author Juan C. Lucena, focused on rendering visible the social justice dimensions inherent in three components of the engineering curriculum—in engineering sciences, engineering design, and humanities and social science courses; that work resulted in Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice (Wiley-IEEE Press, 2018). His current research grant project explores how to foster and assess sociotechnical thinking in engineering science and design courses.

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Abstract

Studies of engineering practice frequently identify its sociotechnical nature. Since professional practice features engineering problems with social and technical dimensions, practicing engineers need to understand the interplay of the social and technical. Yet most engineering courses and curricula render the social contexts, impacts, and influences of engineering invisible. There has been a growing effort in recent years to create pedagogical interventions to develop engineering students’ abilities in sociotechnical thinking. Separate from this research in sociotechnical engineering, there has also been a large body of work exploring the development of engineering identity among students and how this identity impacts outcomes like student motivation and persistence. However, there have been few explorations at the nexus between engineering identity and sociotechnical thinking. Exploring this nexus holds potential since engineering students can be resistant to sociotechnical thinking and content in what they see as “technical” courses. Student resistance can also be anchored in perceptions that sociotechnical thinking is distinct from “real” engineering work.

This paper presents results from a study exploring the connections between students’ perceptions of sociotechnical thinking and engineering identity. The study is part of a larger NSF-funded project exploring the formation of sociotechnical thinking in core, undergraduate engineering courses across two universities and three different courses, each with a different instructor. In our broader project, we have collected data from multiple diverse sources, including student work, faculty reflection logs, pre-/post-surveys, and student focus groups. Our project did not originally intend to explore connections to engineering identity formation in students or professional practice. However, while analyzing the student focus group data, we observed that engineering identity was impacting students’ responses in unexpected ways.

Thus, this study aims to answer the following research question: How are students’ conceptions of engineering identity linked to their ideas on sociotechnical thinking?

To answer this question, we use case study analysis on five focus group transcripts spanning two years of data collection and the three courses. We present thick descriptions the responses of one participant in each focus group. We then use inductive analysis to understand how students’ engineering identities (be they established, in development, or absent) connect to their beliefs about sociotechnical thinking. From this analysis, the theme of liminal engineering identities emerged. A liminal identity is one that is in limbo, caught between two spaces or formations. In our research, we find that each of the five participants investigated manifests a liminal identity of some form, made visible, in part, by exploring their conceptions of sociotechnical thinking and engineering practice.

Claussen, S., & Tsai, J. Y., & Johnson, K., & Blacklock, J., & Leydens, J. A. (2021, July), Exploring the Nexus Between Student's Perceptions of Sociotechnical Thinking and Construction of their Engineering Identities Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37155

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