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Learning Engineering and Teaching Engineering: Comparing the Engineering Epistemologies of Two Novice Teachers with Distinct Pedagogies of Design

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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

Faculty Development I: Attitudes Towards Teaching

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Kristen Bethke Wendell Tufts University

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Kristen Wendell is Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Tufts University, where she is also a Faculty Fellow at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.

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Jessica E. S. Swenson Tufts Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Jessica Swenson is a graduate student at Tufts University. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with a research focus on engineering education. She received a M.S. from Tufts University in science, technology, engineering and math education and a B.S. from Northwestern University in mechanical engineering. Her current research involves examining different types of homework problems in mechanical engineering coursework and the design process of undergraduate students in project-based courses.

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Tejaswini S. Dalvi University of Massachusetts, Boston

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This research paper describes the study of novice teachers’ epistemological framing of engineering learning and teaching. The inclusion of engineering design at all grade levels in the Next Generation Science Standards calls for efforts to create learning opportunities for teachers to learn to teach engineering. In our research on the role of engineering in elementary teacher preparation, we ask, what learning goals do new elementary teachers take up when asked to do engineering design themselves, and what learning goals do they establish when setting up engineering design tasks for students? We conducted an interpretive comparative case study with two purposefully selected cases, chosen to unpack contrasting epistemological framing of engineering. Ana and Ben participated in the same science teaching methods course and volunteered for a follow-up engineering professional development institute, which was the context for this study. Data sources included videos of the teachers solving design problems, teachers’ written and oral reflections on engineering teaching experiences, and researcher field notes from the after-school week. We generated thick descriptions of the cases of Ana and Ben and used these to develop conjectures about their engineering epistemologies. Following microethnographic methodology and strategies from discourse analysis, we re-examined transcripts and other data artifacts for confirming and disconfirming evidence of these conjectures. We found that Ana and Ben framed engineering learning as building knowledge versus delivering a product, respectively, and engineering teaching as building knowledge versus delivering knowledge. During her own engineering design, Ana took up the goal of not just meeting the needs of the client but ultimately of scientific sense-making about how something could function to meet those needs. When facilitating students’ engineering, she prioritized their agency and sense-making about design success or failure. She also engaged frequently in her own sense-making about the success or failure of her teaching moves. By contrast, when Ben worked on his own engineering designs, he took up the goal of getting the job done. When facilitating students’ engineering design, he provided particular materials and assigned prototyping tasks to deliver his knowledge about how the prototypes worked. His reflections on teaching emphasized classroom management and how to model design process steps. Our findings have implications for incorporating engineering experiences into work with novice teachers. Teacher educators should consider supporting the framing of design as a knowledge building enterprise through explicit conversations about epistemology, apprenticeship in sense-making strategies, and tasks intentionally designed to encourage “figuring things out.”

Wendell, K. B., & Swenson, J. E. S., & Dalvi, T. S. (2016, June), Learning Engineering and Teaching Engineering: Comparing the Engineering Epistemologies of Two Novice Teachers with Distinct Pedagogies of Design Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25535

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