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Identifying Signature Pedagogies in a Multidisciplinary Engineering Program

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Medley of Undergraduate Programming and Pedagogies

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Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Kimia Moozeh University of Toronto

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Kimia Moozeh has a PhD in Engineering Education from University of Toronto. She received her Hon. B.Sc. in 2013, and her Master’s degree in Chemistry in 2014. Her dissertation explored improving the learning outcomes of undergraduate engineering laboratories by bridging the learning from a larger context to the underlying fundamentals, using digital learning objects.

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Lisa Romkey University of Toronto

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Lisa Romkey serves as Associate Professor, Teaching Stream and Associate Chair, Curriculum, Teaching and Learning with the Division of Engineering Science at the University of Toronto. In this position, Lisa plays a central role in the evaluation, design and delivery of a dynamic and complex curriculum, while facilitating the development and implementation of various teaching learning and assessment initiatives. Lisa teaches undergraduate courses in engineering & society, and graduate courses in engineering education. Her research interests include teaching and assessment practices in engineering. Lisa also serves as Associate Director for the Institute for Studies in Transdisciplinary Engineering Education & Practice (ISTEP) in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, which serves as a hub for pedagogical innovation and transdisciplinary engineering education.

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Nikita Dawe University of Toronto

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PhD student in the Collaborative Specialization in Engineering Education and Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Toronto.

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Rubaina Khan University of Toronto

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Rubaina is a Ph.D. student within the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. She is also pursuing a collaborative specialization in Engineering Education. Rubaina received her M. Sc. Degree in Computer Control and Automation from the Nanyang Technology University in Singapore in 2008. She went on to work for an MIT research institute in Singapore right after. She spent the next four years in developing navigation technologies for underwater robotics that were used to understand environmental issues in the coastal regions of Singapore.

She was always interested in the education aspect of engineering that led her to take up a position as a lecturer in Singapore Polytechnic. Rubaina spent the next five years developing interdisciplinary engineering courses, designing activities to promote engagement and motivation in the classroom and supervise students in their final year projects mainly in robotics. This led to her thinking about issues related to engineering education and pursuing a degree in education.

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This work-in-progress is part of a larger research and evaluation project designed to realign program goals with teaching and learning practices in a large, multi-disciplinary engineering program at a research-oriented Canadian university. The ultimate goal of this work is to define and develop a set of key teaching and learning practices that reflect program goals and future directions. In particular, key program priorities include curriculum integration, inter- and multi-disciplinary thinking, working from first principles, and the development of problem framing skills to support the pursuit of research and entrepreneurship.

In this work, we draw from Shulman’s work on signature pedagogies [1], which defines them as the modes of teaching and learning that are unique to a particular discipline or profession. Shulman describes signature pedagogies using three “structural dimensions”: (1) Surface Structure, or the concrete operational acts; (2) Deep Structure, or the assumptions and decision-making that takes place in designing educational experiences; and (3) Implicit Structure, or the hidden curriculum. Signature pedagogies demonstrate to students what is accepted as credible knowledge, practice and culture in their future profession. In this particular case, we attempt to apply the concept of signature pedagogies to a multidisciplinary program that, despite its engagement with a multitude of more traditional disciplines, holds its own philosophy of teaching and learning.

As a first step in working towards these signature pedagogies, we have conducted a series of semi-structured interviews with a group of select program faculty, providing a rich description of how instructors position the program in the larger engineering landscape, how they describe the learners in the program, and how they construct learning experiences. Through a thematic analysis of the interviews, an implicit and deep structure of a signature pedagogy emerged that has endured in the program. This implicit pedagogy enacted by faculty members enculturates students with attitudes, values and dispositions supported by the program [2]. Key themes constructing this implicit pedagogy include: (1) the importance of working with abstract knowledge and "pure math and science” as a point of “rigour”; (2) the relevance of preserving traditions and reputation to pedagogical choice; (3) the disciplinary perspectives held by instructors coming from multiple disciplines themselves; and (4) a “drinking from a firehose” metaphor, suggesting that instructors believe that students can manage a large volume of knowledge and practice, which in turn defines the teaching philosophy of the faculty members.

Tingerthal [3] suggests that there is no consensus on the signature pedagogy of engineering. Our research serves as a case study in the identification of a signature pedagogy in a multi-disciplinary engineering program, and highlights the tensions and challenges in the process of framing and defining it. The findings of this work will support the emergence of an understanding of signature pedagogies in multidisciplinary programs. Results of the interviews are used to develop a questionnaire to survey a larger sample of program faculty and alumni.

References L. S. Shulman, “Signature Pedagogies in the Professions,” Daedalus, vol. 134, no. 3, pp. 52–59, 2005. [Online]. Available: {Accessed Dec. 15, 2019]. Kumar, Swapna. "Signature pedagogy, implementation and evaluation of an online program that impacts educational practice." The Internet and Higher Education 21 (2014): 60-67. J. Tingerthal, “Work in Progress: Signature Pedagogies in Engineering - Surface Structure,” in 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings, 2017, vol. 2017-June.

Moozeh, K., & Romkey, L., & Dawe, N., & Khan, R. (2021, July), Identifying Signature Pedagogies in a Multidisciplinary Engineering Program Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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