June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Pre-College Engineering Education Division
In this ethnographic study, we followed seven groups of adolescents (ages 14 to 17)—all of whom spoke Spanish as a first language—over the course of nine months as they selected problems and sought to solve them through engineering. We collected three sources of data to help us identify the participants' information gathering strategies. First, we video- and audio-recorded their bi-monthly group meetings in which they developed solutions to their self-selected problems. Second, we provided the participants with tablets and wireless Internet access to aid their work on their engineering projects, and we tracked the sites they visited in relation to their engineering projects. Third, we interviewed the participants about the sources that they consulted for the project when the research team was not present.
A constant comparative analysis of the data indicated three patterns in the participants' information gathering processes. First, they tended to seek for information via oral communication. Second, they tended to seek for information presented visually rather than in writing. Third, they collected information in fewer and somewhat different categories when compared with the categories of information that professional engineers use. In all, we found that the participants' ability to speak Spanish enabled them to communicate with diverse audiences, including content experts and clients, but they did not often use Spanish to seek for written information.
We argue that, by implication, engineering teachers can acknowledge information obtained through multiple sources--including a variety of oral and visual sources in different languages--while helping students to understand, evaluate, synthesize, and apply this information to their designs. Future studies can determine whether this type of instruction for linguistically diverse students leads to positive outcomes in engineering.
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