Discourses and social worlds in engineering education: Preparing problem-solvers for engineering practice

Elliot P. Douglas, Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, David J. Therriault, Christine S. Lee, Nathan McNeill

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

5 Scopus citations


Social and linguistic representational systems, also known as Discourses, shape how individuals perceive their social worlds, including their own identities. Within an engineering context, Discourses shape how students perceive their roles as engineers and provide a window into which social forces shape students' emerging professional lives. In this paper. we investigate Discourses present in engineering education by examining how students approach problem solving. We focus on data from interviews with eight senior materials science and engineering students at a large southeastern university. Participants solved four engineering problems in a think aloud session and then were interviewed afterward about their problem solving approaches. A modification of Gee's Discourse analysis method was used to analyze the interview data. First, we analyzed students' motifs and identified their top three I-statements. Next, we developed each participant's identities and associated characteristics based on the dominant motifs and Istatements found in the interviews. Finally, Discourses that influenced the identities that emerged from each participant's interview were identified in order to draw connections to wider influences in the social and political landscape. From this analysis process, six Discourses were identified: pedagogical, economic, individualistic, peer collaboration, math, and research. Pedagogical Discourses were the most frequent in students' interviews (excluding discourses directly related to solving the problems). Many of the Discourses highlighted the practices, expectations, and language uses associated with being a student. We interpreted these findings to indicate that these students perceived themselves mainly as students (i.e., navigating the realm of their academic majors with professors and classmates), rather than as emerging engineers (whose practices are affected by conditions of industry). Our results suggest that problem solving in an academic setting does not encourage students to consider alternative Discourses related to industry and may fail to promote connections to social worlds beyond the classroom.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
ISBN (Print)9780878232413
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Event119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - San Antonio, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 10 2012Jun 13 2012


Other119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Antonio, TX

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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