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Measuring Cognitive Growth In Engineering Undergraduates: A Longitudinal Study

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.705.1 - 6.705.8



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Paper Authors

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Sang Ha Lee

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Betsy Palmer

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Rose M. Marra

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John Wise

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Thomas Litzinger

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session ______

Measuring Cognitive Growth in Engineering Undergraduates: A Longitudinal Study

John Wise, Sang Ha Lee, Thomas A. Litzinger, Rose M. Marra, Betsy Palmer The Pennsylvania State University / University of Missouri / The University of Iowa


This paper builds on previously reported findings1,2 by describing the completion of a four-year longitudinal investigation into the cognitive development of engineering undergraduates as measured using the Perry Scheme of Intellectual Development.3 Fifty-four students were randomly selected during their first year and invited to participate in three hour-long interview sessions. During the interview, each student reflected on his or her view of knowledge, education, and learning. The interviews were transcribed and sent to a rater experienced in assigning positions relative to the Perry Scheme based on student responses to these types of questions. While it was hoped that students would progress from simple dualistic views (position 1 / 2) through complex dualism (position 3) and relativism (4 / 5) to commitment in relativism (position 6+), most students in this sample did not make it beyond position four. This paper will review the findings with an eye towards curricular activities that may or may not encourage this type of growth.

I. Introduction

The move towards more active learning in engineering education has brought with it a need to assess the higher-order thinking that such environments and activities are thought to promote.3 At Penn State, we have been looking at undergraduate student development using the Perry scheme of intellectual development as a way to identify factors that contribute to the cognitive growth of students during a four or five year engineering program.

William Perry began asking undergraduates about their experiences at Harvard in the 1950s. 3 Using an open-content interview method, Perry was able to collect data reflecting the students’ epistemology. Common themes began to emerge, and he was able to identify what appeared to be a series of “positions” that change as the student experiences situations that are dissonant with their cognitive structures. The scheme begins with basic dualism (positions 1 and 2), proceeds through relativism (positions 3 through 5) and concludes with commitment within relativism (positions 6 through 9) [Table 1.]

Proceedings of the 2001 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2001, American Society for Engineering Education

Lee, S. H., & Palmer, B., & Marra, R. M., & Wise, J., & Litzinger, T. (2001, June), Measuring Cognitive Growth In Engineering Undergraduates: A Longitudinal Study Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9538

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