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Research Through Design: A Promising Methodology for Engineering Education

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Research Methods and Studies on Engineering Education Research

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Kathryn Elizabeth Shroyer University of Washington Orcid 16x16


Jennifer A. Turns University of Washington

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Jennifer Turns is a Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She is interested in all aspects of engineering education, including how to support engineering students in reflecting on experience, how to help engineering educators make effective teaching decisions, and the application of ideas from complexity science to the challenges of engineering education.

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Engineering Education (EngEd) research is a fairly young and interdisciplinary field. As such, a wide variety of methods and methodologies have been imported from both positivist and interpretivist traditions in other domains. Design inquiry approaches, however, have yet to be widely adopted in the field. These research methodologies leverage design, not as a means of primarily solving a problem or generating an artifact, but as a means of surfacing theoretical knowledge. Given EngEd’s roots in engineering, these approaches are a natural fit and hold promise for opening up new research directions. In this article, one design inquiry approach - Research through Design (RtD) from the interdisciplinary fields of Human Computer Interaction is outlined.

This paper addresses the broad question: Why might RtD be a research approach of interest to the engineering education research (EER) community? To address this broad question, we address the following smaller questions: What are key features and key activities of RtD? What knowledge is generated by RtD/What kinds of research questions is RtD good for? What does quality or trustworthiness look like for RtD projects? How does RtD align with other research methods currently discussed in engineering education? and What types of projects could a RtD approach make possible?

We explored the literature to identify ways that RtD is described and instances of RtD in contexts including engineering education, but also in contexts beyond engineering education since the research method originates in a different field. In addition, we explored how an RtD approach might intersect with activities we (as the authors) currently have ongoing. We analyzed the products of the literature review and personal explorations in order to address the questions.

Based on our work thus far, RtD has promise as a method that is fitting for Engineering Education. But because it was developed in HCI there may be small contextual changes that need to be made to adapt it to engineering education. We think that introducing and adapting RtD in engineering education will allow us to better design learning experiences and better understand new ways of teaching and learning. It will help us formalize and share knowledge that we are already personally gathering in tacit ways.

Shroyer, K. E., & Turns, J. A. (2021, July), Research Through Design: A Promising Methodology for Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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