This complete evidence-based practice paper describes a methodology used in a general first-year engineering program to explore students’ perceptions of engineering through the use of drawings. One of the primary objectives of the first-year program is to help students develop a sense of identity within the field of engineering, as well as, understand basic engineering knowledge and skills, which in turn will support them in their selection of an engineering major (among 15 different options) and ultimately in their persistence toward their selected degree. Hence, understanding students’ preconceptions of the engineering discipline when they start their academic program is crucial. However, many students entering the program come with narrow preconceptions or limited knowledge about the profession. One challenge instructors face is how to facilitate students’ thinking about their own perceptions of engineering in a meaningful way.
A typical activity to help the students understand their perceptions of the engineering discipline is to ask them “What is engineering?” However, instructors have been frustrated by the lack of depth in students’ responses. This paper explores a different methodology to explore students’ perceptions of the engineering discipline by taking an arts-informed approach; instead of writing down their perceptions or talking with a peer, students are first asked to draw the response to the question “What is engineering?” Approximately 150 students participated in this activity during the first class at the beginning of their first semester in engineering (Fall 2018), across 6 sections of the first in a two sequence, foundations of engineering course, taught by two instructors.
Our work was informed by the theoretical framework developed by Capobianco et al. (2011). They used the Draw An Engineer Test (DAET) to identify how elementary school students perceived an engineer. In their work, they were able to identify the actions performed by an engineer, and the artifacts used by an engineer from the students’ perspectives. They were also able to categorize an engineer into 4 different groups: (1) mechanic, (2) laborer, (3) technician, (4) designer. Although this work has been used previously in engineering education research and provides insightful data on kids’ perceptions of an engineer, we are taking a different approach. We are interested in understanding not the perceptions about the person (i.e. the engineer), but about the discipline. Hence, we used Capobianco et al. (2011) work to inform our approach to data collection and analysis.
This paper presents preliminary results on the analysis of the students’ perceptions of the engineering discipline through art-based techniques using a visual methods qualitative approach. It has been suggested that these types of approaches can facilitate more meaningful conversations between instructors and students regarding their previous preconceptions of disciplines. We used these methods to investigate students’ drawings to observe how they organized their thoughts and chose to represent their views. Data were analyzed using open coding of the draws and the analysis was conducted by 3 different researchers. The researchers agreed on an initial codebook. Some descriptive statistics are presented to understand the different aspects highlighted by the students in their draws.
Anticipated results provide an insightful representation of undergraduate engineering students preconceptions about the discipline in terms of the context in which they believe engineering happens, the typical work performed in the discipline, the tools and artifacts used in the discipline, the types of problems the discipline solves, and the scope of the field. We provide implications for research and practice and recommendations on how first-year engineering instructors can use this information to better understand their own students' preconceptions about engineering to help them develop a complete and critical understanding of what engineering is.
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