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Judging the Quality of Operationalization of Empirical-Analytical, Interpretive and Critical Science Paradigms in Engineering Education Research

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Methodological & Theoretical Contributions to Engineering Education 1

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.834.1 - 24.834.18



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Paper Authors


Gurlovleen K. Rathore Texas A&M University

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Gurlovleen Rathore is pursuing her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Engineering at Texas A&M University. Her research interests include problem-based learning, design creativity and innovation, design education and future faculty professional development. She received her B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of Michigan and a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University.

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Judging the Quality of Operationalization of Empirical- Analytical, Interpretive and Critical Science Paradigms in Engineering Education ResearchParadigms are basic set of beliefs that guide disciplinary inquiry. While paradigms have recentlybeen the point of discussion in engineering education literature, explicit discussion on judgingthe operationalization and the quality of operationalization of paradigms in engineeringeducation research is limited. Operationalization is the process of defining a latent phenomenon(e.g. paradigms) in terms of observable phenomenon (e.g. outcomes). Some researchers havefound inconsistency in operationalization of (qualitative) paradigms in existing engineeringeducation studies. Other researchers have discussed general qualities of major paradigms alongwith examples of engineering education research studies that operate from within the specificparadigms. This (other category) paper will complement previous discussion by explicitlydescribing how new researchers can use paradigm classification criterion to identify anddetermine consistency in operationalization of paradigms in research studies. New researchersare often experts or graduate students in engineering or engineering education, who haveprimarily been trained in and are operating from the empirical-analytical paradigm, withoutformal education on different research paradigms.This paper will first describe Coomer and Hultgren’s criterion for paradigm classification andthen illustrate and critique the operationalization of empirical-analytical, interpretive and criticalscience paradigms in studies of engineering invention using their criterion. The three paradigmsare selected for analysis in this paper for their (though unequal) prominence in the engineeringeducation literature. Three published studies on invention will be judiciously identified and theirtext evaluated for evidence of Coomer and Hultgren’s criterion. While the example studies arenot strictly engineering education studies, each of these studies can easily be extended to haveimplications for engineering design education. Similar paradigmatic analysis can therefore beapplied to studies categorized explicitly as engineering education research studies. Descriptiveevidence for Coomer and Hultgren’s criterion will be used from each study to illustrate why theindividual study is classified under the empirical-analytical, the interpretive or the criticalscience paradigm. The critique of the operationalization of the three studies will highlight thatthe first two studies can be strengthened to consistently represent their respective paradigms. Thethird study will be evaluated to be of high quality.This paper will serve three major purposes in explicitly stating Coomer and Hultgren’s criterionfor paradigm operationalization and analyzing the quality of operationalization of threeparadigms in context of studies of invention. One, the paper will support new engineeringeducation researchers’ understanding of three major paradigms in engineering education researchvia contextualized examples. Two, it will assist new engineering education researchers inidentifying individual components of a study that form the basis of and determine theoperationalization of a paradigm in a research study. Three, it will scaffold critical thinking ofnew engineering education researchers in judging the quality of existing literature they will useto support and justify their own research. This in turn may improve the overall quality ofengineering education research studies generated by new engineering education researchers.Keywords: paradigms; operationalization; quality

Rathore, G. K. (2014, June), Judging the Quality of Operationalization of Empirical-Analytical, Interpretive and Critical Science Paradigms in Engineering Education Research Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20725

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