Development of a Taxonomy of Keywords for Engineering Education Research

By Finelli, Cynthia J.; Borrego, Maura et al. | Australasian Journal of Engineering Education, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Development of a Taxonomy of Keywords for Engineering Education Research


Finelli, Cynthia J., Borrego, Maura, Rasoulifar, Golnoosh, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education


Joint Editors' Introduction to the Special Report 'Development of a Taxonomy of Keywords for Engineering Education Research'

As the engineering education literature has proliferated across disciplines and continents, the growing number of publications has become difficult to navigate. Recognizing the need to better find and organize publications, authors, and reviewers, Doctors Cindy Finelli and Maura Borrego led an inclusive effort to develop a taxonomy of engineering education terms from a United States perspective. They conducted workshops in several countries and drew on our expertise in an advisory capacity. The resulting taxonomy has the potential to connect engineering education scholarship worldwide. We are pleased to jointly publish this report on the development of the taxonomy, to reach all of our journals' audiences.

--Les Dawes, Editor, Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

--Jeffrey E. Froyd, Editor-in-Chief, IEEE Transactions on Education

--Erik de Graaff, Editor-in-Chief, European Journal of Engineering Education

--Ahmad Ibrahim, Editor, International Journal of Engineering Education

--Michael C. Loui, Editor, Journal of Engineering Education

1. Introduction: the need for a taxonomy

Engineering education research is a broad-based, rapidly evolving, diverse, interdisciplinary, and highly international field. Exciting and innovative research is being conducted in a wide variety of educational and professional engineering settings, in countries around the world, and by researchers and practitioners in a range of disciplinary fields (for the range of research, see Alpay and Jones 2012; Besterfield-Sacre et al. 2014; Borrego 2007; Borrego and Bernhard 2011; Case and Light 2011; de Graaff and Kolmos 2014; Froyd, Wankat, and Smith 2012; Heywood 2005; Jesiek, Newswander, and Borrego 2009). Although this diversity provides an opportunity for cross-fertilisation of ideas and creativity, it also can result in fragmentation of the field and duplication of effort.

One solution that would allow engineering education researchers and practitioners to best take advantage of this diversity is to establish a standardised terminology and organisational system--a taxonomy of terms--to map the field and to communicate and connect research initiatives. Such a taxonomy of terms for engineering education research could be useful for multiple audiences. It could serve as a framework for researchers and members of the engineering education research community to situate their individual research initiatives in the broader field, see connections and synthesise ideas, better access the research of others, and plan future work. It could be a source of terms to help novices understand the breadth of the field and conduct literature searches. The taxonomy could be a mechanism for journal editors to organise related authors and research areas, identify the alignment of submitted articles with a journal's mission, and categorise a reviewer database for more appropriate assignment of reviewers. And it could provide a method for funding agencies to classify research portfolios, identify areas for capacity building, frame solicitations, and recruit reviewers.

Others have noted the importance of organising research areas and publications in the field of engineering education research and have established systems for categorising the field and analysing entire bodies of work. Wankat (1999, 2004) and Whitin and Sheppard (2004) are frequently credited with the earliest efforts in analysing the field; each catalogued a set of articles published in the Journal of Engineering Education. Among other things, they studied each article's research topic, theoretical framework, and approaches to data collection. More recently, Jesiek et al. (2011) studied over 2000 publications in a variety of global engineering education journals and conferences over a three-year period, extracting 38 categories of terms; Malmi and collaborators (e. …

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