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Using The Emergent Methodology Of Domain Analysis To Answer Complex Research Questions

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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

Measurement Tools

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1343.1 - 15.1343.10



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Paper Authors


Lindsey Nelson Purdue University

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Lindsey Nelson is a graduate student in Engineering Education. She graduated from Boston University with her bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. In trying to gain knowledge about teaching and learning within an engineering context, Lindsey pursued some graduate study in mechanical engineering and shifted to teaching high school physics. As an active member of the American Association of Physics Teachers, she developed an interest in curricular innovations. Combining her interest in curricular innovations with a passion for social justice, Lindsey hopes to expand the boundaries of engineering education to include sustainable international development strategies. Email:

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Alice Pawley Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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

Using the Emergent Methodology of Domain Analysis to Answer Complex Research Questions

Abstract As engineering education research matures, engineering education researchers seek to answer increasingly complex questions rooted in social situations, such as “What is engineering in various communities?” and “How does engineering work happen at various stages of professional development?”1. The desire to ask such questions leads the community to develop or incorporate diverse methods that help the community to answer the complex question. The purpose of this paper is to present to the engineering education community an introduction to domain analysis, an ethnographic method developed within anthropology2 designed to answer these complex questions. Careful observation serves to identify productive routes to inquiry so as to move the researcher towards understanding relationships present within the social environment defined by the question. Because this methodology can call attention to both desirable and problematic relationships, results from this methodology can inform individual research agendas, program assessment, and policy creation by enabling researchers to construct a map of social situations.

Specifically, this methodology builds on the tradition of flexible design characterized by question asking, good listening, adaptiveness and flexibility, grasp of the issues, and lack of bias2-3 and relies on anthropological techniques of domain analysis.2, 4 We present domain analysis as an iterative four-step method: 1. Locate a social environment to observe. 2. Decide what evidence already present in that environment helps you answer your question. 3. Identify inter-relationships between the evidence. 4. Organize these relationships according to a question tree.

This paper explains these four steps within the context of engineering education research, with specific examples relating to our ongoing investigation of how engineering education researchers research gender. This paper is explicitly about our method; describing our data in detail is outside the scope of this paper. This research method provides important insights needed to design engineering education research agendas both at the individual and community level.

Introduction As engineering education research matures, engineering education researchers seek to answer increasingly complex questions rooted in social situations. The desire to analyze social situations leads some engineering education researchers to pull in qualitative research methods from education,5-6 marketing,7 sociology,8 history9 and anthropology.10-14 Qualitative methods from these disciplines provide researchers with an ability to explain situations in detail without necessarily having to make specific recommendations for future change. However, researchers who build on the tradition of applied anthropological research use their rich understanding of social situations to make specific recommendations for practice.15 Applied anthropologists have investigated the culture of design firms,10,16-17 global partnerships within high-tech industry,18 and socialization of professional engineers19 all with the goal of making recommendations for

Nelson, L., & Pawley, A. (2010, June), Using The Emergent Methodology Of Domain Analysis To Answer Complex Research Questions Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16148

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