Asee peer logo

Investigating Middle School Students’ Perceptions of Communication Challenges in Collaborative Engineering Design Learning (Fundamentals)

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Fundamental: K-12 Students and Engineering Design Practices (Part 2)

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1037.1 - 26.1037.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Michelle E Jordan Arizona State University

visit author page

Michelle Jordan earned her PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, focusing
her studies on learning, cognition, and motivation with an emphasis on classroom discourse. She joined
the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in 2010. Her interdisciplinary research
draws on traditions in qualitative inquiry, sociolinguistics, complexity theories, and the learning sciences.
Partnering with teachers and researchers across multiple contexts, Michelle’s research agenda explores
the relationships among small-group interactions, the experiences they facilitate, and their potential to
extend human learning in diverse contexts including K-12 engineering design teams.

visit author page

author page

Mia Delarosa

Download Paper |


Investigating Middle School Students’ Perceptions of Communication Challenges in Collaborative EngineeringThe purpose of this mixed-methods study was to investigate how middle-school students’respond to communication challenges during a set of design-reflect-design processes associatedwith collaborative engineering design. Four questions guided analysis: RQ1: What do learners’ written reflections reveal about their perceptions of communication patterns during collaborative engineering design projects? RQ2: How do students’ perceptions shift between Project #1 and Project #2? RQ3: To what extent do learners’ perceptions of the quality of their individual-level interactions change across the two projects?The study took place in three eighth-grade science classes in one Title I urban school in thesouthwestern U.S. Classroom procedures occurred in 50-minute periods over three consecutivedays in a design-reflect-design process (i.e., Project #1, reflection on communication patterns,Project #2). Students were assigned to one of two roles: design-team member in three-to-fourmember teams, or student-observer. Data sources include video/audio recordings, field notes,design-team members’ responses to open-ended reflection questions and a seven-point Likert-item scale (HICES) (Day1=86, Day3=78). Analysis of open-ended questions was interpretive,using constant comparative methods, open and axial coding, and iterative cycles of independentmemoing/coding and team negotiation of codes and themes. A t-test was conducted to compareHICES scores for project #1 and #2.In regards to RQ1, several trends emerged from analysis of learners’ perceptions of how theirteam negotiated roles/responsibilities. One set of responses (N=64) focused on the context ofinteraction (roles assigned/jobs emerged), while another (N=49) focused on process(nature/quality of design-team interactions). Learners also offered a range in perceptions of howtheir team evaluated progress. Some responders (N=71) reported evaluating the tangible designstructure itself, either on an ongoing basis or at the end of the project, while others (N=65) keyedinto emotional-relational qualities of interactional evaluations. Analysis identified four wayslearners’ communicated to understand the task: reading (N=57), questioning (N=48), listening(N=29), and observing other teams (N=6). Learners’ perceptions of how their team generatednew ideas either focused on why (hear everyone’s voice/create best product) or how (leader-driven/team-identified best alternative/combined ideas) - and sometimes added perceptions ofwhen or the manner in which - brainstorming occurred.In regards to RQ2, many learners increased in sophistication of understanding engineeringdesign processes, indicated by distinctions in task activities and interactional patterns. Learnersalso increased their sense of responsibility and agency by reportedly taking on new roles, andmoved from conceiving their team members as a collection of individuals to conceiving theirteam as a collective unit.In regards to RQ3, responses to the HICES scale of learners’ self-perceived quality of their owninteractions with teammates were fairly high (Project #1: M=4.99, sd=1.14; Project #2: M=5.00,sd=1.09, 7-point scale). No significant difference was found between challenges.Thus, learners grew in their metacognitive awareness of communication patterns across thedesign-reflect-design procedures, but not of their individual-level interactions. Future analysiswill compare students’ perceptions with student-observers’ and researcher/teacher’s perceptions,and project outcomes.

Jordan , M. E., & Delarosa, M. (2015, June), Investigating Middle School Students’ Perceptions of Communication Challenges in Collaborative Engineering Design Learning (Fundamentals) Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24374

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: © 2015 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