Asee peer logo

From Peripheral to Full Participation: Implications of Learning Theory for Educational Design and Learning Assessment in STEM Apprenticeships

Download Paper |


2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Works in Progress: Assessment and Research Tools

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Tamara Ball University of California - Santa Cruz

visit author page

Dr. Tamara Ball is a project-scientist working with the the Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design (SEED) collaborative at UCSC. She is the program director for Impact Designs - Engineering and Sustainability through Student Service (IDEASS) and Apprenticeships in Sustainability Science and Engineering Design (ASCEND). She is interested in understanding how extracurricular and co-curricular innovations can support meaningful campus-community connections in higher education and improve learning outcomes. Her research to date has focused on educational designs that emphasize learner initiative and agency through inquiry or problem-based learning in formal and informal learning contexts. She has published several papers on the characteristics of learning environments that support or constrain opportunities for any students (including those from non-dominant backgrounds) to participate in key science and engineering process skills such as scientific argumentation. Her work is largely informed by the principles and perspectives on human development and cognition articulated by Cultural Historical Activity Theory. Putting theory into practice, she teaches a service-learning course at UCSC wherein interdisciplinary teams of students work in an layered apprenticeship model with community mentors to design and implement sustainable solutions to water, energy, waste, transportation and social challenges using "green technology". Dr. Ball has worked as a research fellow with two NSF Centers for Learning and Teaching and most recently on several NSF projects that focus the integration of engineering and social science to support the advancement of experiential learning for sustainability in higher education.

visit author page


Linnea Kristina Beckett University of California - Santa Cruz

visit author page

Linnea Beckett is a PhD Candidate in Education at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Beckett's continuing dissertation research examines a community-university collaboration situated in a low-income, predominantly Latino community, that created and used digital stories as artifacts and learning tools to engage members of the community (parents, teachers, district officials, union leaders, students, non-profit service providers, etc.) in reflection and dialogue around the economic, social, and cultural barriers that constituents face when advocating for student academic achievement, and to identify the strengths and solidarities that can be created to change the school system to better serve the student body (Beckett, Glass, & Moreno, 2012). Beckett has presented her research at numerous national and international conferences in the fields of education and women's studies (AERA, AESA, & NWSA). In 2009, Beckett served as a Program Evaluator for the world renowned Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UC Santa Cruz. She co-authored an evaluation of two decades of the apprenticeship program (Perez, Par, & Beckett, 2010). She served as the Program Evaluator for Apprenticeships in Sustainability Science and Engineering Design (ASCEND) at UC Santa Cruz in the 2014-2015 academic year, where she collaborated with the Program Director to build new assessment to measure STEM learning through "audio diaries," and piloted an assessment that measures "legitimate peripheral participation" or learning-by-doing, which is the theoretical foundation to an apprenticeship model of learning.

visit author page


Michael S. Isaacson University of California - Santa Cruz

visit author page

Michael Isaacson is the Narinder Singh Kapany Professor emeritus, professor of electrical engineering, Director of the Center for Sustainable Energy and Power Systems (CenSEPS) and a member of the Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design Program at UCSC. He is recipient of numerous awards including a Sloan Foundation Faculty Fellowship, the Burton Medal from the Microscopy Society of America, an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award, the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Microscopy Society of America. He is a Fellow of the AAAS and the MSA. He has been elected to the executive board of the Engineering Research Council of the American Society of Engineering Education and is series co-editor of “Advances in Microscopy and Microanalysis” published by Cambridge University Press. He is the PI on an NSF-PIRE grant on “US-Denmark Cooperative Research and Education in Intermittency-Friendly Community-scale Renewable Energy Micro-grids”. Professor Isaacson has a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.S. and PhD in physics from the University of Chicago. He came to UC Santa Cruz in 2003 from Cornell University where he was a professor of Applied and Engineering Physics, director of the Keck Foundation Program in Nanobiotechnology and Associate Dean of Research, Graduate Studies and Professional Education in the College of Engineering.

visit author page

Download Paper |


This paper reports on a set of assessment methods and instruments being developed as part of a larger agenda to research, develop and institutionalize participatory and inclusive STEM-learning experiences through apprenticeships in sustainable engineering and design. The authors have been investigating and testing educational strategies to incentivize the legitimate participation of youth that would otherwise be considered “STEM-outsiders” in selected STEM-linked sustainable design projects moving forward in their local community. More specifically, this research explores the efficacy of apprenticeship (a.k.a. legitimate peripheral participation) through digital-storytelling as a possible alternative to more familiar “hands-on” apprenticeship models. We present several assessment instruments, developed in alignment with socio-cultural theories of situated cognition and more specifically, with Jeanne Lave and Etienne Wenger’s analytic framework for understanding apprenticeship learning through the lens of legitimate peripheral participation. Illustrative examples of the kinds of data that can be generated using these pilot instruments are taken from the results of a pilot case study. The pilot program at the center of this study offers two alternative possibilities for youth to apprentice with interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates and local professionals working collaboratively to innovate, design, implement and validate sustainable technologies and systems in their surrounding community. Opportunities for youth to get involved in the production of “digital stories” narrating the challenges, outcomes and local impacts of these projects serve as an alternative to a parallel, hands-on, “design-and-build” apprenticeship track. Compilations of sequential audio recordings, archived as online “audio-diaries”, are analyzed for evidence of changes in the youths’ involvement in these projects and their related abilities to productively participate in problem-definition and problem-solving activities. These data are compared with on-site observations and data collected from focus group exit interviews. Methods used in the pilot study to generate and assess evidence of participants’ overall understanding of the problems or issues motivating a specific sustainable engineering project, their ability to formulate and articulate valid problem statements are also discussed. Two new instruments are proposed: a new third-party observation instrument and an adaptation of the protocol for eliciting and analyzing audio-diary entries used during the pilot. Both instruments are designed to monitor and correlate changes in participation and membership over time with evidence of developments in formal cognitive reasoning processes recognized as important to the practice of engineering-design.

Ball, T., & Beckett, L. K., & Isaacson, M. S. (2016, June), From Peripheral to Full Participation: Implications of Learning Theory for Educational Design and Learning Assessment in STEM Apprenticeships Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26974

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015