Development of Engineering Education as a Rigorous Discipline: A Study of the Publication Patterns of Four Coalitions
Borrego, Maura, Journal of Engineering Education
A combination of publication analysis and faculty interviews was employed to study four NSF-sponsored engineering education coalitions as a case study of the recent history of engineering education. Current calls within the engineering education community for increased rigor can be understood in terms of the ways similar disciplines have emerged. In science education, for example, time was needed to develop consensus on important research questions, accepted methods, and standards of rigor. The abstracts of 700 publications listed on active engineering education coalition Web sites were analyzed over time by type of intervention, population of focus, and product. A picture consistent with other reports of coalition contributions emerged. Early focus was on freshman courses and integrating across disciplines, with teamwork, design and other active learning activities. Students and course improvement remained the dominant focus, but efforts increased over time in assessment, faculty development, and research. Interviews with coalition leaders and leading authors supplement the publication analysis and describe how coalition work helped lay the foundation for more rigorous engineering education research.
Keywords: engineering education coalitions, field development, standards of rigor
Recently, calls for better quality and increased rigor in engineering education research have surfaced [1-6], and as a result, lack of quality has become an implied criticism of past engineering education work. In arguing for a radically new approach, it may appear necessary to discount past contributions: "Many years of reform efforts have not produced the breakthroughs we will need to find room for the new technologies and skills that are now being called for" . From 1990-2004, a significant portion of National Science Foundation (NSF) engineering education funding has gone to the engineering education coalitions . As a well-funded, yet bounded system, the coalitions serve as an excellent case study of the recent history of engineering education and internal motivations for increased rigor.
The purpose of this research was to understand the history of engineering education in light of recent publications calling for an increase in the quality of future engineering education research. As the recipients of significant NSF engineering education funding, the coalitions were the focus of this study. The following questions guided this research:
1. What shifts in focus over the 15-year history of the coalitions can be measured objectively and quantitatively?
2. How exactly do coalition publications stand up to evaluation using traditional engineering standards of research quality and impact?
3. What are the perceptions of coalition personnel with respect to rigor and the research goals of their coalition work?
The intention is to better understand the role of the engineering education coalitions in advancing the field of engineering education to its current state. Potential outcomes include a deeper understanding of the contributions of the engineering education coalitions, findings to guide future research and policy, and contributions to literature about the history of engineering education. Results include a quantitative summary of coalition publication efforts and qualitative reflections of coalition leaders and leading authors on rigor and field development.
II. DEVELOPMENT OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION AS A DISCIPLINE
Calls for increased rigor can be understood in terms of the ongoing development of engineering education as a new discipline. A fbundational concept in history of science is consensus with regard to important research questions, standards of rigor, and even expected experimental results. In his highly cited work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn used the term "paradigm" to describe this consensus among scientists . …