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Mathematics And Physics Faculty Conceptions Of Teaching In A First Year Integrated Project Based Engineering Curriculum

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Assessment and Curriculum Development

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.867.1 - 14.867.10



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Paper Authors

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Casey Canfield Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Yevgeniya Zastavker Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

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Mathematics and Physics Faculty Conceptions of Teaching in a First-Year Integrated Project-Based Engineering Curriculum Abstract

This paper examines the experiences, perspectives, and concerns of mathematics and physics faculty involved in implementing a first-year integrated project-based engineering curriculum. Carried out at a small engineering college that uses project-based learning (PjBL) as its main curricular and pedagogical practice, this curriculum expects that mathematics and physics faculty team-teach in the environment of integrated course blocks. A semi-structured, open-ended interview protocol is employed and grounded theory is used to identify answers to the following questions: (1) What are the conceptions of teaching held by mathematics and physics faculty involved in implementing a first-year integrated project-based engineering curriculum as defined by Kember’s categorization of faculty conceptions? (2) To what extent does the context, in which faculty instruct, affect their teaching approaches? (3) To which extent does passive involvement (i.e., no instruction or assessment of teaching techniques) in a student-centered educational environment affect faculty’s adoption of learner/knowledge-centered teaching approaches? Preliminary analysis indicates that most mathematics and physics faculty teaching in the project-based environment have student-centered intentions in teaching and the context in which the instruction is implemented (e.g., academic discipline) plays an important role in shaping faculty intentions and teaching approaches. Most faculty identify a need to continually adjust their conceptions of teaching to have a successful teaching and learning experience.


Despite the fact that numerous engineering schools, including top institutions of higher education,1 have transitioned to more hands-on, collaborative curricula, changes in engineering education are still described as “slow.”2 One of the proposed reasons for such a slow change is attributed to “faculty members who ‘are very, very protective of their curricula.’” Moreover, the process of “changing faculty attitudes” towards teaching and learning is identified as “the key” to advancing engineering education reform in U.S. institutions of higher learning.2 Numerous studies support the claim that faculty conceptions of teaching strongly impact their willingness and ability to support education reform.3 Faculty come into academic settings with pre-existing beliefs about teaching and learning that are based on their own experiences in education.4 These beliefs are often resistant to change and may serve as filters for attainment of new knowledge about teaching and learning.5

Conceptions, which are used synonymously with beliefs in this context, are defined by Pratt as “specific meanings attached to phenomena which then mediate our response to situations involving those phenomena. […] In effect, we view the world through the lenses of our conceptions, interpreting and acting in accordance with our understanding of the world.” 7 Faculty conceptions of teaching, which are distinct from conceptions of learning, comprise

Canfield, C., & Zastavker, Y. (2009, June), Mathematics And Physics Faculty Conceptions Of Teaching In A First Year Integrated Project Based Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5357

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