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Undisciplined Epistemology: Conceptual Heterogeneity in a Field in the Making

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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

Studying Engineering Education Research & Institutions

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1630.1 - 26.1630.9



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Paper Authors


Kacey D Beddoes Oregon State University

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Kacey Beddoes is a Research Associate in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University. She received her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech, along with graduate certificates in Women’s and Gender Studies and Engineering Education. She serves as Managing Editor of Engineering Studies and Assistant Editor of the Global Engineering Series at Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Her current research interests include gender in engineering education research, interdisciplinarity, peer review, engineers’ epistemologies, and global engineering education.

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Corey T Schimpf Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Undisciplined Epistemology: Conceptual Heterogeneity in a Field in the MakingIn 2006, a group of leading engineering education researchers produced a research agenda for theemerging field of engineering education research. The Research Agenda for the New Disciplineof Engineering Education delineated five research areas around which it was believed the fieldshould focus its efforts: engineering epistemologies, engineering learning mechanisms,engineering learning systems, engineering diversity and inclusiveness, and engineeringassessment. Engineering epistemologies was defined as “research on what constitutesengineering thinking and knowledge within social contexts now and into the future.” In 2014, aguest editorial in the Journal of Engineering Education sought to clarify the difference betweentheory and epistemology, explaining that, “Often, engineers writing and reviewers critiquing inthis new domain do not understand what epistemology is and how it differs from theory, yet it isimportant to understand and to articulate both within research studies.” At first glance, confusionover the difference between theory and epistemology may be perplexing to scholars fromhumanities and social sciences; however, a closer look at the emerging field of engineeringeducation research reveals heterogeneous conceptualizations of epistemology that likelycontribute to the confusion.These events raise significant and timely questions about disciplinary development thatcontribute both to engineering education and Science and Technology Studies. What were theactual contents of the 2006 research agenda? How did the 2014 editorial conceptualize theoryand epistemology? What happened in those intervening years between 2006 and 2014? What dothe answers to these questions reveal about engineering education research in particular anddisciplinary development in general?This paper begins to sketch the intellectual history of a heretofore unexamined piece of thehistory of engineering education research. In this paper, we focus on one facet of the field, theconcept of epistemology, and examine what it reveals about the state of the field, it’s values, anddisciplinary development more broadly. We begin with a brief overview of the concept ofepistemology. We then examine prior literature on concepts within and across disciplines.Following that, we describe the 2006 research agenda. Findings from our analysis of Journal ofEngineering Education are then presented, and we discuss their implications for engineeringeducation and STS.  

Beddoes, K. D., & Schimpf, C. T. (2015, June), Undisciplined Epistemology: Conceptual Heterogeneity in a Field in the Making Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24966

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