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Narrative Analysis in Engineering Education Research: Exploring Ways of Constructing Narratives to Have Resonance with the Reader and Critical Research Implications

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Discussions on Research Methodology: ERM Roundtable

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1184.1 - 26.1184.20



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Paper Authors


Nadia N. Kellam Arizona State University

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Dr. Nadia Kellam is Associate Professor in the Polytechnic Engineering Program at Arizona State University. Prior to this position, she was an Associate Professor at the University of Georgia, where she was co-director of the interdisciplinary engineering education research Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER). In her research, she is interested in understanding how engineering students develop their professional identity, the role of emotion in student learning, and synergistic learning. A recent research project uncovers the narratives of exemplary engineering faculty who have successfully transitioned to student-centered teaching strategies. She co-designed the environmental engineering synthesis and design studios and the design spine for the mechanical engineering program at UGA. She is engaged in mentoring early career faculty at her university and within the PEER National Collaborative. In 2013 she was selected to be a National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Education Faculty Member.

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Karen Sweeney Gerow University of Georgia

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Karen Sweeney Gerow is pursuing her Ph.D. in the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. Her research interests include STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education, narrative inquiry, and interdisciplinary studies. She is also the founding director of the Double Helix STEAM School in Athens, GA.

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Joachim Walther University of Georgia

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Dr. Joachim Walther is an assistant professor of engineering education research at the University of Georgia (UGA). He is a director of the Collaborative Lounge for Understanding Society and Technology through Educational Research (CLUSTER), an interdisciplinary research group with members from engineering, art, educational psychology and social work. His research interests range from the role of empathy in engineering students' professional formation, the role of reflection in engineering learning, and interpretive research methodologies in the emerging field of engineering education research. His teaching focuses on innovative approaches to introducing systems thinking and creativity into the environmental engineering program at the University of Georgia.

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Narrative Analysis in Engineering Education Research: Exploring Ways of Constructing Narratives to have Resonance with the Reader and Critical Research ImplicationsNarrative research methods are gaining popularity across diverse disciplines and are starting tobecome adopted in engineering education research projects. Many commonly used researchmethods in engineering education, such as grounded theory and phenomenography, involvecoding and categorizing data, and while this is useful in many contexts it does not capture thecomplex, nuanced, and individual story of the participants that can resonate deeply with thereader and lead to different types of insights during analysis. Narrative research provides a wayto understand data by keeping stories intact during analysis (i.e. analysis of narratives) or byconstructing narratives based on the data that is then analyzed (i.e. narrative analysis). Thepurpose of this paper is to explore ways of constructing narratives to be used for narrativeanalysis and the methodological implications of these narratives.Three narratives were constructed in the first person using a common data set that consisted of21 narrative interviews that were conducted with undergraduate engineering students from adiverse range of majors and ranging from freshmen to senior levels. The first narrative wasbased on one interview, used direct student quotes whenever possible, and included connectingwords and phrases as needed to make the story coherent. The next was based on the sameinterview without using direct student quotes, where attention was paid to crafting a story thatinvolved the protagonist having a goal and responding to events. The third narrative was basedon multiple interviews and in this narrative attention was paid to crafting an impactful story thatspans an entire undergraduate engineering experience. After each of these stories wasconstructed, each narrative was analyzed independently to determine the methodologicalimplications and types of impact of each type of constructed narrative.It was found that there are tradeoffs with each type of constructed narrative and in this paper wewill explore how different choices made by the researcher has significant impacts on the project.In conclusion, many people are beginning to conduct narrative analysis in engineering educationand this paper deeply explores this methodology and will help others as they design andimplement a methodologically sound narrative research study that promises to have strongresonance with the reader and critical research implications.

Kellam, N. N., & Gerow, K. S., & Walther, J. (2015, June), Narrative Analysis in Engineering Education Research: Exploring Ways of Constructing Narratives to Have Resonance with the Reader and Critical Research Implications Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24521

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