Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Reimagining Site-Walks: Sites for Rich Learning

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Reimagining Site-Walks: Sites for Rich Learning

Article excerpt


1.1 Professional and workplace learning

Engineers are continually confronted with new challenges in their work, and it is a normal part of engineering practice to learn how to deal with them. The practice of engineering, like many professions, is highly contextualised and this means that even similar jobs in different locations may require modification of an engineer's approach. To be able to discern such differences engineers draw on their experience to look at a problem from different points of view. This type of understanding and expertise is only developed, or should we say learnt, through practice. Hence an understanding of how professional engineers learn through practice has wide implication for stakeholders engaged in engineering education, from undergraduate studies to formal continuing professional development.

There are many recognisable activities that address the demand for continuing professional learning, for example, courses, seminars or other structured learning activities. These may be provided by employing organisations in-house or by external professional bodies. While these educational activities serve an important purpose and may indeed provide "training", they do not account for the full gamut of learning. Accounts of professional learning that focus solely on participation by individual engineers in such structured learning activities limit the potential for making the most of professional learning opportunities within organisations, particularly when considering everyday work. Over the past two decades researchers interested in workplace learning have repeatedly drawn attention to how much workplace learning happens as part of actual work itself (Cairns & Malloch, 2011; Hager, 2011).

1.2 Practice as a lens for looking at professional learning

Various theoretical developments in workplace learning research over the past two decades have also led to the emergence of "practice-based" conceptualisations of professional learning (Rooney et al, 2014). These practice-based studies offer a novel lens to explore professional learning. They focus on specific practices as the unit of analysis and see both work and learning as sets of practices. Like most conceptual innovations, there is contestation around some of the finer theoretical points. However despite contestation, five partly overlapping principles of practice are typically seen in literature described as practice-related studies (Hager et al, 2012).

A first common principle is that practices are embodied. It is not just the intellect that performs practices, but people's bodies, emotions, dispositions, biographies, etc. A second principle is that practices are materially mediated. When practice is undertaken, it occurs in conjunction with material arrangements in the physical world. These may include objects such as raw materials, resources, artefacts and tools, physical connections, communication tools, and material circumstances (Kemmis, 2009; Schatzki, 2005). A third common principle is that practices are relational. People, artefacts, social groups and networks develop characteristics in relation to other subjects, social groups or networks such that they are formed and structured socially (Kemmis, 2009; Osterlund & Carlile, 2005). The fourth principle is that practices are situated. They are situated in particular settings, "in time, in language and in the dynamics of interactions" (Gherardi, 2008, p. 521). Finally, the fifth common principle is that practices are emergent. That is, they evolve over time and over contexts; they change in light of circumstances.

The authors' understanding of practice theory suggests that work, including engineering work, is purposeful and consists of "bundles of practices and material arrangements" (Schatzki, 2006, p. 1867). These include the rules of the organisation and professions, the shared practical understandings (how to carry out the basic doings and sayings) and the general understandings that are shared among those who carry out that profession (Schatzki, 2012). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.