Representation of Engineering Concepts in Academic and Engineering Workplace Settings: How situated are engineering concepts in these contexts?
Division of Engineering Education and Centers
Background: The notion of a concept implies an abstract chunk of information that is ubiquitous across contexts. However, situated cognition theories suggest that conceptual understanding is nuanced and shaped by the contexts wherein conceptual knowledge is learned and applied.
Purpose/Hypothesis: The purpose of this research is to better understand the similarities and differences between contexts in engineering education and practice. Through exploration of these contexts, we can better understand how contexts manifest similar and different ways of conceptual representations amongst engineering students and professionals. By representations we mean the ways in which conceptual knowledge is demonstrated within social and material contexts.
Design/Methods: This research implemented ethnographic methods within education and practice settings to better understand the influence of context on conceptual representations. To narrow our scope on context, the ethnographic research focused on structural engineering concepts represented by structural engineering students, instructors, and professionals within upper-level structural engineering courses and on real-world structural engineering projects.
Results: Early results indicate that students, instructors, and professionals generally agree on common definitions of structural engineering concepts. However, the ways in which these three groups represent those concepts varies based on their contexts. These contexts and subsequent representations have their purposes suited for the academic or workplace settings where they occur, but there exists avenues to simulate workplace contexts in academic settings to help bridge the education-practice gap.
Conclusion: While most engineering students, instructors, and professionals would agree that the purpose of engineering education is to prepare future engineers for the workplace; contexts of the workplace can vary from company to company and position to position. Through more focused in-depth explorations of these contexts within specific engineering disciplines, we can better understand which engineering concepts are ubiquitous and which are not.
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