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Institutional Discourses in Engineering Education and Practice

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Research in Engineering Education II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.786.1 - 25.786.15



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Paper Authors


Nathan McNeill University of Florida

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Nathan McNeill is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida, where he is studying the factors that contribute to success in open-ended problem-solving. He has a Ph.D. in engineering education from Purdue University, an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a B.S. in engineering from Walla Walla University.

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Elliot P. Douglas University of Florida

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Elliot P. Douglas is Associate Chair, Associate Professor, and Distinguished Teaching Scholar in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. His research activities are in the areas of active learning, problem solving, critical thinking, and use of qualitative methodologies in engineering education. Specifically, he has published and presented work on the use of guided inquiry as an active learning technique for engineering, how critical thinking is used in practice by students, and how different epistemological stances are enacted in engineering education research. He has been involved in faculty development activities since 1998, through the ExCEEd Teaching Workshops of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Essential Teaching Seminars of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the U.S. National Science Foundation-sponsored SUCCEED Coalition. He has also been active in promoting qualitative research methods in engineering education through workshops presented as part of an NSF project. He has received several awards for his work, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the Ralph Teetor Education Award from the Society of Automotive Engineers, being named a University of Florida Distinguished Teaching Scholar, and being named the University of Florida Teacher of the Year for 2003-04. He is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education and the American Educational Research Association and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Polymer Reviews.

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Mirka Koro-Ljungberg University of Florida

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David J Therriault University of Florida

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Institutional discourses in engineering education and practiceAn individual’s identity is formed by being recognized as a “certain kind of person” within agiven context. Identities are created through discourses—socially recognizable actions,communications, interactions, language, objects, symbols, tools, ways of thinking, values, andbeliefs. One of the ways that engineering students are identified, or identify themselves, isthrough the values and objectives promoted by organizations that have a stake in engineeringeducation. Discourses promoted by organizations that educate and employ engineers identifywhat it means to belong to the engineering profession, what an engineer should know, whatvalues they should hold, and how they should act.The study described in the paper employed qualitative content analysis to identify engineeringdiscourses communicated by two types of institutions (i.e., universities and companies) that havean impact on the development of engineering student identities. Explicit statements of vision,mission, values, learning objectives, educational outcomes, or goals were identified on thewebsites of ten universities and ten companies that educate and hire materials engineers. Onuniversity websites, discourses were identified at the college and departmental levels.Program learning outcomes required by ABET accreditation were communicated on nearly all ofthe departmental websites analyzed in this study. At the university level the common themeswere leadership, creating and expanding knowledge, and service. Several universities explainedthat their goals are to prepare graduates for careers in industry or academia. Values espoused bycompanies were often communicated through individual words or short statements. The primarythemes identified were: serving the needs of customers or clients; producing products of“quality” at reasonable cost; technology; having a global reach; and a focus on ethical andenvironmentally friendly practices.Comparing discourses across the two types of institutions, both similarities and differences werenoted. Innovation and creativity were themes common to both universities and companies. Aswith universities, many companies promote themselves as leaders in particular fields as well asleaders in innovation and creativity. Although several companies spoke of providing theiremployees with challenges and opportunities for personal growth, such discourses wereessentially absent from university websites.It was not difficult to find statements promoting values and objectives on the websites of everyorganization analyzed in this study. Institutions that educate engineers and companies thatemploy them are clearly using their websites to promote discourses relating to their visions ofengineering. This study raises several questions about the discourses identified and their impacton engineering students. For example, which discourses promoted by the institutions in thisstudy are students aware of? And, what impact are these discourses having on students? Thisstudy begins to address the social construction of engineering identity through the institutionswhich define engineering practice.

McNeill, N., & Douglas, E. P., & Koro-Ljungberg, M., & Therriault, D. J. (2012, June), Institutional Discourses in Engineering Education and Practice Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21543

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