Studies on undergraduate research experiences (UREs) have shown that these programs lead to positive gains including increased retention in STEM majors, clarification of career goals, establishment of collegial working relationships, increased understanding of how science research is done, increased ability to work and think independently from faculty, and increased problem-solving skills. Because of these gains, URE has been identified as a high-impact educational practice. Unfortunately, many undergraduate students are not able to reap the benefits of authentic research experiences due to curricular limitations, exclusive criteria for participating in UREs, and conflicts with work schedules or family responsibilities. This work (funded by an NSF-REE) seeks to understand how undergraduate students in UREs develop their researcher identities and build their engineering knowledge to propose effective practices that can be integrated into engineering courses and curricula.
The first two phases of this multi-institution project focused on answering our overall research question: How do undergraduate engineering students develop their identities as researcher and their ways of knowing engineering through research experiences? This paper focuses on the final stages of Phase 2: the development of a grounded-theory conceptual model.
In Phase 2, we conducted 22 interviews with participants from six institutions, recruited from students who completed a survey in Phase 1. All interview transcripts were coded using the coding scheme that was initially developed from open ended questions in the survey. From the coded transcripts, we developed structured memos that included a participant description, summary of salient concepts from theoretical frameworks and/or themes, and connections to other participants (cross-case analysis). These structured memos served as the data set that was used to develop our conceptual model showing how researcher identity and epistemic thinking (e.g. beliefs about knowledge, processes for generating knowledge, and justification of processes) emerge through participants’ experiences in UREs.
The process of developing our grounded-theory conceptual model from our structured memos started with four coders independently reading a subset of memos to develop an initial list of potential themes. Each coder further refined their themes by testing their salience across participants. Once each coder finalized their own core set of themes, a single list of emerging themes was generated by coders combining and refining their individual lists. This process lead to the generation of six final themes: independence, response to failure, nature/dimensions of research, personal gains from research, social aspects of research, and outcomes of research.
The coding, memos, and themes laid the groundwork for our research team to collaboratively develop and visualize our conceptual model based on the key components of a grounded theory. Each of us brought our knowledge of the data and our own expertise in the theoretical constructs that guided our work. Once we constructed our conceptual model, we assessed its validity by testing it with individual cases from our data, allowing us to refine the model and the language used to label key components. Our poster will document this process and provide the first presentation of the model.
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