This paper describes a multi-phase, multi-institution project with the objectives of exploring how undergraduate engineering student researchers develop their researcher identities and build their engineering knowledge, and proposing effective practices that can be integrated into engineering courses and curricula. The first two project phases focused on quantitative and qualitative data collection to answer our overall research objectives, culminating with the development of a grounded-theory conceptual model, the Dynamic Researcher Identity and Epistemology Model (DRIEM). Elements of the DRIEM include research practices and social interactions (which in combination make up and are embedded in a research experience); knowledge of what research is, who researchers are and what a researcher does (which comprise students’ epistemic metacognitive knowledge); and elicited emotions such as excitement or boredom (which can mediate the connection between a student’s epistemic metacognitive knowledge and researcher identity). The DRIEM also represents how an individual’s researcher identity exists with, and is affected by, their multiple other identities and/or future self. The collaborative, iterative process of developing this model lead to identifying four propositions: 1) Researcher identity affects and is affected by reflection on research actions; 2) Researcher identity is fluid and can dissolve or solidify; 3) Researcher identity and interest in research are influenced by social contexts; and 4) Students’ researcher identity and perceptions of research are influenced by their initial dispositions and beliefs about researchers. We further refined the DRIEM and our textual description of it, and demonstrated its validity, by testing it with individual cases from our data.
The third and final phase of our project involved developing a workshop aimed at introducing engineering educators to the DRIEM and identifying ways to incorporate our research insights and findings into engineering courses and curricula. Since a course setting, similar to a research setting, requires students to participate in activities related to the testing, building, justifying, and disseminating of knowledge, we theorized that researcher identity and epistemic thinking can develop and shift in course environments as well as in UREs. We refer to this project phase as research-with-practice, wherein engineering educators were asked to identify ways to translate this model into their courses, and in turn provide insights into ways we can more effectively communicate and represent our research findings. Outcomes of these workshops include not only ideas for modifying teaching practices in ways that would promote students’ epistemic practices, but also ideas for refining our textual and visual descriptions of the DRIEM. Thus the workshops afforded opportunities for researchers and practitioners to co-construct idea ways to apply research findings, producing ideas that neither the researchers nor practitioners could have developed independently.
Our project poster will document our research processes and findings, including the development of our grounded theory model and ways that translating our research to practice allowed us to refine the way our model is visualized and explained.
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