Quality in interpretive engineering education research: Reflections on an example study

Joachim Walther, Nicola W. Sochacka, Nadia N. Kellam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

314 Scopus citations


Background: The emerging discipline of engineering education research is increasingly embracing a diverse range of interpretive research methods, whose adoption is characterized by a lack of coherent ways to conceptualize, communicate, and judge the quality of interpretive inquiries. Yet fields that have traditionally employed these methods do not offer a consensus about research quality. Purpose: This article presents reflections on challenges to research quality in an example interpretive engineering education study, and offers a quality framework that emerged from this study as a coherent, discipline-specific view on interpretive research quality. Design/Method: Analysis of the prior study of engineering students' competency formation by the author(s) is combined with a synthesis of the literature from the broad intellectual traditions of the interpretive paradigm to inform the development of a theoretical framework of research quality. Results: Drawing on the engineering metaphor of quality management, we propose a systematic, process-oriented framework of research quality along two dimensions: a process model locates quality strategies throughout the research process, and a typology systemizes fundamental aspects of validation (theoretical, procedural, communicative, and pragmatic) and the concept of process reliability to explicate quality strategies in their fundamental contribution to substantiating knowledge claims. Conclusion: The quality framework provides a way to develop and demonstrate overall research quality in the interpretive inquiry by shifting attention away from assessing the research quality of a final product. Rather, the framework provides guidance to systematically document and explicitly demonstrate quality considerations throughout the entire research process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)626-659
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Interpretive methods
  • Research quality
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Engineering(all)


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