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Using Phenomenography: Reflections on Key Considerations for Making Methodological Decisions

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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

26.1676.1 - 26.1676.25



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Paper Authors


Emily Dringenberg Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Emily Dringenberg is a Ph.D. candidate in Engineering Education at Purdue University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Kansas State '08) and a Master of Science in Industrial Engineering (Purdue '14). Her current dissertation research focuses on using qualitative methods to explore the experiences of students engaging with engineering design problems. Additionally, her research interests include transfer of learning, personal epistemology, and design learning.

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John Alexander Mendoza-Garcia Purdue University, West Lafayette / Pontificia Universidad Javeriana - Bogota, Colombia Orcid 16x16

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John Mendoza-Garcia is a Colombian Systems Engineer (Bachelor's and Master's degree) and currently a Ph.D candidate in Engineering Education at Purdue University. His advisors are Dr. Monica E. Cardella and Dr. William C. Oakes. He is interested in understanding the development of systems thinking to support its assessment and teaching. Currently, he works for the first year engineering program at Purdue where he has taught the engineering introductory courses in design and algorithmic thinking, and has also developed content for these courses. He is currently on a leave of absence from the department of systems engineering at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Colombia, where he taught systems thinking and coordinated professional internships, social internships and the graduation project. He worked as a software engineer in different companies for seven years before transitioning to academia.

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Mariana Tafur-Arciniegas P.E. Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Mariana Tafur is a Ph.D. candidate and a graduate assistant in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She has a M.S. in Education from Los Andes University, Bogota, Colombia; and a B.S., in Electrical Engineering, also from Los Andes University. She is a 2010 Fulbright Fellow. Her research interests include engineering skills development, STEM for non-engineers adults, motivation in STEM to close the technology literacy gap, STEM formative assessment, and Mixed-Methods design.

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Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University

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Nicholas D. Fila is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His current research interests include innovation, empathy, and engineering design.

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Ming-Chien Hsu Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Using Phenomenography: What are Key Considerations when Selecting a Specific Research Approach?Phenomenography is a qualitative research method that is growing in popularity withinthe engineering education community as it enables scholars to investigate criticalvariation in students’ learning experiences. As a method of inquiry, phenomenographyoriginated from Sweden in the 1970’s where a team of educational researchers (Martonand colleagues) were trying to understand how and why some people learn better thanothers. For example, phenomenography could be used to identify students’ commonmisconceptions around scientific concepts. Since then, additional researchers inAustralia (Bowden and others) have expanded the use of phenomenography by using it asa framework to investigate socially constructed phenomena. These two differentapproaches to using phenomenography share similarities, and they also introducedifferences--especially in the data collection and data analysis phases. Despite theimportance of understanding these differences, existing literature does not provide a clearsynthesis of how researchers might choose a way to use phenomenography. Asengineering education researchers using phenomenography, we each found it challengingwith our combined reviews of current literature to understand the implications ofselecting a particular approach for our individual research questions. This paper aims toadd transparency to the process of selecting a specific approach through the presentationof each of our three cases, which include selection of the Swedish approach, Australianapproach, and a blend of the two. We include reflection on our processes of becomingfamiliar with the different perspectives and then developing our own study designs. Wewill provide recommendations based on these reflections for key elements for researchersto consider when conducting phenomenographical research.

Dringenberg, E., & Mendoza-Garcia, J. A., & Tafur-Arciniegas, M., & Fila, N. D., & Hsu, M. (2015, June), Using Phenomenography: Reflections on Key Considerations for Making Methodological Decisions Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25012

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015