July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021
July 19, 2022
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
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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