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What Portfolio Construction Efforts Reveal About Students’ Search For Engineering Identity

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Approaches to Learning Outcomes Assessment in Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1608.1 - 12.1608.11



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Paper Authors


Steve Lappenbusch University of Washington

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Steve Lappenbusch is a Ph.D. student in the University of Washington Technical Communication department. His research assistant work investigates how to improve engineering learning. His dissertation topic is risk management in humanitarian relief communication systems.

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Jennifer Turns University of Washington

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Jennifer Turns is an associate professor in the University of Washington Technical Communication department. Her research interests include user-centered design and engineering learning. Her National Science Foundation CAREER grant funds research on engineering learning.

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

What portfolio construction efforts reveal about students’ search for engineering identity

Abstract With the desire to contribute to both the research and practice of improving engineering education, we set out to explore portfolios as a curricular intervention to help students integrate engineering content knowledge. Unexpectedly, our data have been helping us see the significance of the identity work students do in creating portfolios. Students built their portfolios through a semi-structured curriculum. Each week students sought to further describe their preparedness as an engineer and we gathered data, primarily interviews, from participants. After undergoing coding and inter-rater reliability tests, three themes of identity work emerged: portfolio construction impacting students’ engineering identity, skills and abilities as a prominent basis for determining engineering affiliation strength, and how portfolio construction may provide students moments of fruitful uncertainty in terms of their personal agency in managing their own identity. This paper illustrates those three themes through two students as cases in identity work. We articulate our understanding through a framework provided by Gee that categorizes identity in four ways: affinity, institutional, discourse, and natural.

Introduction A subtle activity for emerging engineers is the formation and integration of their identities as engineers. Not only must their content knowledge cohere into expertise, they must understand themselves to be the kind of person who can and should possess that expertise. They must think of themselves as engineers. In recognition of this, identity is emerging as a promising lens for engineering education research. For example, the issue of identity is one of three threads in an ongoing multi-institutional NSF-funded study of the engineering student learning experience 1 2 3 . Researchers in engineering education are drawn to issues of identity because of the hypothesized link between identity development and retention in engineering. Having students build professional portfolios in which they describe their preparedness to function as an engineer represents one approach for studying students’ efforts to consider and assert their identity as engineers. In our professional portfolio program, students created portfolios of their past work and experiences intended to represent their fitness as emerging engineers. Students performed a series of tasks to accomplish this goal. Those tasks included writing a professional statement about their chosen engineering discipline, collecting and assessing artifacts of past work, choosing artifacts that best represented what students wanted to illustrate about their engineering acumen, annotating the chosen artifacts, and connecting the artifacts together in an online portfolio building tool or in a web site of their own design. The purpose of this paper is the preliminary creation and introduction of themes of identity work seen in engineering students’ activities. The themes are preliminary, as is the analysis that produced them. This paper does not publish a new theory, but asserts the potential fruitfulness of an analytical direction – the work engineering students do to create their engineering identities. We will articulate each theme and provide examples from our data. It is important to remember that we will not simply recount what kinds of identities we saw, but the kinds of work students

Lappenbusch, S., & Turns, J. (2007, June), What Portfolio Construction Efforts Reveal About Students’ Search For Engineering Identity Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2590

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