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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationJANUARY 2008Volume 17 | Number 5 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: Game of Chance - TO STAY COMPETITIVE, AMERICA NEEDS A LEADER COMMITTED TO MAKING SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY A PRIORITY, EDUCATORS SAY. BUT NONE OF THE 2008 CANDIDATES OFFERS A SURE BET.  - BY JEFFREY SELINGO- BY JEFFREY SELINGO
FEATURE: Extreme Learning - CAR BOMBS, TSUNAMI SHELTERS, SPACE ROBOTS—UNIVERSITY LABS ARE MAKING THE STUDY OF ENGINEERING EVER MORE REAL. WHO WOULDN’T GET DRAWN IN WITH HANDS-ON PROJECTS LIKE THESE?   - BY MARY LORD
FEATURE: Too Little Respect - BRITISH ENGINEERS, ONCE THE PRIDE OF AN EMPIRE, ARE TYPECAST BY THE PUBLIC AND RARELY REACH THE EXECUTIVE SUITE. EDUCATORS EXPLORE CURRICULUM CHANGES TO GIVE THE PROFESSION A BOOST.   - BY THOMAS K. GROSE

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: Changing Study Habits - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
INTERACTIVE SKILLS: An Engineering Necessity – BY DR. LEE HARRISBERGER
LAST WORD: A Friend, Indeed - BY JAY BANERJEE

TEACHING TOOLBOX
TEACHING TOOLBOX: Fast and Curious - OFFER STUDENTS THE CHANCE TO WORK ON DESIGN WITH A LEGENDARY SPORTS CAR MAKER, AND THEY’LL SIGN UP—A GRAN VELOCITÀ.  - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS
TEACHING TOOLBOX: ON THE SHELF: Terrible Twins - BY ROBIN TATU
TEACHING TOOLBOX: JEE SELECTS: It’s About More Than Numbers - BY MAURA BORREGO


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  TEACHING TOOLBOX: JEE SELECTS: It’s About More Than Numbers - BY MAURA BORREGO  

Engineers need to adjust their approach when conducting research on education.

In the push to improve engineering education, it is often noted that engineering faculty receive little or no formal training in pedagogy. Now, engineering faculty are themselves conducting much more research on education and learning. Yet because they lack training in educational research methods, it is important to ask whether engineers’ usual methods are suited to this kind of research; and, if not, how to fill the gap.

To address the challenges of educational scholarship, engineers need to shift their thinking about research. First, they must recognize that what might seem like unnecessary “extra steps” are in fact crucial to the educational research process. Such steps include identifying and describing an underlying learning theory, explaining the applicability or transferability of results and describing how abstract concepts (for example, confidence) are measured. Trained in technical rather than educational research, the typical engineering educator is not accustomed to addressing explicitly such considerations, as these steps are assumed in technical work.

Engineering and science also feature a high degree of consensus on important research questions, appropriate methods, and what constitutes convincing evidence. This allows for a kind of communication shorthand, since the motivation for the work is generally understood and accepted by all. Yet achieving results that become a universally accepted truth is less likely in education research than in engineering. Because the objects of study are human beings, with their complex, varied, and changing perspectives, universality is essentially impossible.

"TEACHING TOOLBOX: JEE SELECTS: It’s About More Than Numbers - BY MAURA BORREGO"Second, most engineering faculty members are more comfortable with numbers than with qualitative assessments, and therefore tend to value statistical significance as the most convincing evidence. Yet with some training, engineers can come to appreciate the ways that qualitative and quantitative approaches complement each other in augmenting our understanding of learning in an engineering context. In my studies of engineering faculty at the Rigorous Research in Engineering Education workshop, I have observed many faculty members shifting from quantitative-only research designs to mixed methods or qualitative approaches after refining their research questions, considering theories, and learning more about measurement and research methods.

Third is the issue of seeking help to navigate this new territory. The cultures of the Ph.D. and of engineering encourage faculty to be self-sufficient, independently training themselves in new techniques necessary for their work. Yet given the different requirements of educational research, it makes sense to enlist the help of a collaborator with complementary expertise. Understanding what scholars of education and other disciplines can offer—for example, help with assessment, curriculum design, educational technology, statistics, educational psychology, gender studies and policy—and being aware of reward systems in different departments and institutions, can help discussions go more smoothly.  Both collaborators should see benefits for their careers. Engineers shouldn’t hesitate to ask acquaintances to recommend a collaborator. Often, they need to be the ones to initiate joint efforts, since they are most aware of the problems in engineering education that require study.

These are just a few of the difficulties engineers face when embarking on education scholarship. If the membership of ASEE is any indication, many believe it is crucial to work on improving engineering education. Knowing in advance what to expect can help overcome challenges as they arise, or avert them altogether.

Maura Borrego is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. This article is adapted from “Conceptual Hurdles Experienced by Engineering Faculty Becoming Engineering Education Researchers,” Journal of Engineering Education, vol. 96, 2007, and the forthcoming “Characteristics of Successful Cross-disciplinary Engineering Education Collaborations,” in JEE, co-authored by L. K. Newswander.

 

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American Society for Engineering Education