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Professional Practice Simulation For Undergraduate Engineers: A Tool For Engaging, Educating And Assessing

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.990.1 - 15.990.4



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Paper Authors

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Naomi Chesler University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Elizabeth Bagley University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Eric Breckenfeld University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Devin West University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Alison Stace-Naughton Dartmouth College

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David Shaffer University of Wisconsin, Madison

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

Professional Practice Simulation for Undergraduate Engineers: A Tool for Engaging, Educating and Assessing


We are developing a novel computer simulation game based on authentic engineering practices to give first-year engineering undergraduates a more complete and accurate understanding of the engineering profession. The game is student-focused in that it is tailored to the newest generation of engineering students who are more computer literate, electronically connected, and simulation game-oriented than any prior generation. The game also is epistemic frame-based in that it seeks to teach and assess the degree to which students acquire the skills, knowledge, values, identity, and epistemology (i.e., the epistemic frame) of the engineering profession. We anticipate that this approach will be highly engaging to first-year undergraduate engineering students and help promote the development of their engineering epistemic frame.


The idea that members of a profession have a common “way of viewing the world” or particular “habits of mind” is well accepted. However, studying the development of a professional way of viewing the world in students of that profession requires discrete, quantifiable aspects. The epistemic frame hypothesis posits that the skills (the things that professionals do); knowledge (the understandings that professionals share); values (the beliefs that professionals hold); identity (the way that professionals see themselves); and epistemology (the ways of knowing shared by professionals) are critical factors in the development of a professional way of viewing the world. These five attributes – skills, knowledge, values, identity and epistemology – make up the epistemic frame.

Prior work has shown that a key step in developing the epistemic frame of many professions, especially those that require innovation, is some form of professional practicum 1,2, which is an environment in which a learner takes professional action in a supervised setting and then reflects on the results with peers and mentors. Skills and knowledge become more and more closely tied as the student learns to see the world using the epistemic frame of the profession. Examples of professional practica include capstone design courses in undergraduate engineering programs, medical internships and residencies, or almost any graduate program in STEM disciplines. Prior work has also shown that epistemic games—learning environments where students game-play to develop the epistemic frame of a profession—increase students’ understanding of and interest in the profession 3-5.

In this paper, we present the development of Nephrotex, a novel epistemic game in which undergraduate engineering students role-play as professional engineers-in-training in order to develop the skills, knowledge, values, identity, and epistemology of engineers. Our approach is novel in several ways. First, our game, which has aspects in common with first year design courses 6,7, is offered not in isolation but as part of a simulated workplace environment for established professionals in practice. Thus, the learning develops in context 7 and the experience has the potential to more realistically mimic the engineering experience. Second, we enable all activities to be done in a simulated environment with some automation to interactions, which

Chesler, N., & Bagley, E., & Breckenfeld, E., & West, D., & Stace-Naughton, A., & Shaffer, D. (2010, June), Professional Practice Simulation For Undergraduate Engineers: A Tool For Engaging, Educating And Assessing Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15908

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