June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Background This work in progress paper will describe a process of analysis for first-year student definitions of the practice of engineering. Engineering has long carried a stigma as people that are good at math and science . However, now it is recognized as a distinct and separate discipline with its own components of thinking and execution . This research investigates what student’s definition of the practice of engineering is within their first year experience. We began this study using Figueiredo’s four dimensions of engineering knowledge . The four dimensions were comprised of: social sciences (engineer as sociologist), basic sciences (engineer as scientist), design (engineer as designer) and practical realization (engineer as doer).
Purpose The study has been designed to examine how first year engineering students interpret the practice of engineering and how they view it in relation to either themselves, others, and the world. The research question that we address in this paper is: How do first year engineering students define the practice of engineering?
Design/Method At the end of the students’ freshman year, during their summer Engineering Mathematics courses, students were asked to describe the practice of engineering in an open-ended questionnaire. The directions read: In 150-200 words, describe what the practice of engineering means to you. We surveyed x students, and received 349 responses. These responses were coded using thematic analysis resulting in six themes. Because these responses were surprisingly rich, this question was analyzed using open and axial coding . Considering the quality of the qualitative data [4-5], the theoretical validation of this data, while limited by including participants only from a medium, public, research institution, other modes of variation are present. Procedural validation will be established through the triangulation of qualitative and quantitative data.
Further, the constant comparative method was used to make sure that we were staying consistent with coding the definitions of the practice of engineering . A limitation is that communicative validation was impossible in this study design, because this data was collected using an open-ended questionnaire, so there was only one-way communication. This approach had the benefit of enhancing process reliability through the use of a consistent survey message given to all the students .
Results Through the analysis, we found student understanding of engineering is conceptualized as pieces in an overarching process rather than Figueriedo’s four dimensions. All the themes we found in students’ responses were within the broad concept of the design/conceptualization process. We established six categories that encompass the expression of students’ responses. The six dimensions include: outward perspective (connecting to people and society), connecting to people (teamwork, collaborating), theoretical (science, math concepts), creativity (innovation, creating, inventing), planning (design, blueprints, efficiency) and actual (critical thinking, problem solving). Through investigating how engineering students compartmentalize their understanding of engineering, we hope to be able to generalize that information to better understanding first year engineering students’ comprehension of the practice of engineering.
 National Science Board. 2014. Science and Engineering Indicators 2014. Arlington VA: National Science Foundation (NSB 14-01).  M. Lammi, K. Becker, Engineering design thinking, Journal of Technology Education, 2013.  A. Figueiredo, Toward an epistemology of engineering, The Royal Academy of Engineering, 2008.  J. W. Creswell, Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches, 3rd edn, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2013, pp. 76.  J. Walther, N. W. Sochacka, and N. N. Kellam, Quality in interpretive engineering education research: Reflections on an example study, Journal of Engineering Education, 102(4), 2013, pp. 626-659.
Tinnell, T. L., & McNeil, J. C. (2017, June), Work in progress: First-Year Students' Definitions of Engineering Practice Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29160
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