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What is Engineering Knowledge: A Longitudinal Study of Conceptual Change and Epistemology of Engineering Students and Practitioners

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

NSF Grantees' Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1365.1 - 23.1365.20



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Paper Authors


Shane A. Brown P.E. Washington State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Shane Brown conducts research on cognition and conceptual change in engineering. He received his bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees from Oregon State University, both in Civil Engineering. His Ph.D. degree includes a minor in Science and Mathematics Education. His master’s degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Davis. Dr. Brown is a licensed professional civil engineer and has six years of experience designing water and wastewater treatment facilities in central California. He was the recipient of the NSF CAREER award in 2011. Dr. Brown’s research interests are in conceptual change, epistemology, and social or situated cognition. Specifically, his research focuses on theoretical approaches to understanding why some engineering concepts are harder to learn than others, including the role of language and context in the learning process.

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Devlin Montfort Washington State University

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Nadia L. Frye Washington State University

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What is Engineering Knowledge: A Longitudinal Study of Conceptual Change and Epistemology of Engineering Students and Practitioners Personal epistemology and conceptual change have had limited combined application inthe sub-field of engineering education and could provide new and insightful ways ofunderstanding engineering student development. The development of conceptual understandingcan provide a plethora of information on what concepts are truly difficult for students as well aswhat concepts engineers continue to use as they transition into the workplace. Tracking studentepistemological development can provide needed insight into the beliefs that students hold aboutengineering knowledge and how those beliefs and their relationship to understanding change asstudents progress through school and transition into the workplace. The purpose of this study is to understand civil engineering students’ conceptual andepistemological development over a critical period from their sophomore year, when they arenewly initiated into their engineering program, through their second year in practice, after theyhave experienced the transition from student to professional. Research methods include parallel, longitudinal interview-based studies of bothengineering undergraduates and beginning engineers. These methods allow for enrichedunderstanding of the development process both within and cross-case comparison of theundergraduate experience and upon entry into practice. Rich description provides both the depthof data required for understanding student development, but also the level of trustworthinessnecessary when using qualitative methods. There have been several outcomes and dissemination efforts working towardaccomplishing the purpose of this study:• Narratives of ongoing student conceptual and epistemological development;• Engineering students and beginning engineers’ personal epistemologies and conceptual understandings of select topics in fluid mechanics and mechanics of materials have been characterized at two stages in time;• Nearly 200 hours of audio and over 400 written pages of data have been collected through twice-yearly, semi-structured extensive interviews and weekly, loosely- structured check-in interviews, as well as a collection of difficult engineering problems faced each week by both engineers and students;• Results and analysis of the previously stated items have been, or will be, published through two conferences and include: o A short explication of the theoretical approach that is being utilized by this study in: Montfort, D., S. Brown, & N. Frye. (In Press). “Work in Progress: Theoretical Approach to Characterizing Changes in Students’ and Engineers’ Conceptual Understanding and Personal Epistemologies.” Proceedings – 2012 Frontiers in Education Conference. o An initial characterization of student epistemologies at the sophomore level in: Frye, N., D. Montfort, S. Brown, & O. O. Adesope. (In Press). “I’m absolutely certain that’s probably true: Exploring epistemologies of sophomore engineering students.” Proceedings – 2012 Frontiers in Education Conference. o An analysis of changes in student epistemologies over a period of time in: Frye, N., D. Montfort, & S. Brown. (Under Review). “Personal Epistemology and Sophomore Civil Engineering Students.” Proceedings – 2013 ASEE Annual Conference.o Selected narratives of engineering students transitioning to the workplace in: Montfort, D., S. Brown, & N. Frye. (Under Review). “Narrative Accounts of Conceptual and Epistemological changes from School to Work.” Proceedings – 2013 ASEE Annual Conference.

Brown, S. A., & Montfort, D., & Frye, N. L. (2013, June), What is Engineering Knowledge: A Longitudinal Study of Conceptual Change and Epistemology of Engineering Students and Practitioners Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22750

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