F10-SP3-5 - Exploring the role of engineering judgment in engineer identity formation through student technical reports

3. Research Work In Progress
Royce Francis1 , Marie Paretti2, Rachel Riedner3
1 Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, George Washington University
2 Department of Engineering Education, Virginia Tech University
3 University Writing Program and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, George Washington University

This work in progress explores how teaching writing skills to engineers intersects with engineer identity formation. The study begins with the observation that in professional practice engineers must demonstrate sound judgments that balance complex, competing objectives or constraints. Engineers must articulate and justify those judgments through a variety of communication mechanisms, including writing. Little research has investigated the relationship between the writing engineering students do and the development of engineering identities, particularly in terms of judgment. To address this gap, our research investigates how students produce engineer identities in written artifacts through which they expect to be recognized as engineers. We ask: “How do students interact with the writing process, and particularly the need to articulate and justify engineering judgments, to produce engineer identities?”

This work in progress is the first part of a two-phase qualitative case study in undergraduate Systems Engineering courses that uses semi-structured interviews and analyses of student writing to explore how engineering identity production influences the way engineering judgments are reflected in student writing. The second phase of this work in progress will involve the design of assignments that foster engineering identity production in writing. We draw from scholarship academic literacy from writing studies research, together with identity frameworks from engineering education research (Paretti, McNair, Leydens, 2015, Poe, Lerner, and Craig, 2010, Winsor, 1996), exploring the ways students learn to think, act, write, and speak as professionals as they learn different conventions for writing. 

This paper presents the study design and initial data from student interviews and written products. In semi-structured interviews, students describe their process of drafting and revising the document, with prompts focusing on approaches to—and engineering judgments required for—problem formulation and calculation/computation, and engineering judgments for communicating findings in writing. The goal is to identify the concepts, categories, and frames students use to make communication choices that align with understandings of “engineering writing,” and how choices intersect with student perceptions of engineering identity.

Ultimately, research findings of this work in progress will develop writing-based interventions in engineering education, producing reproducible frameworks for incorporating writing instruction that support undergraduates in bridging the gap between their student and professional experiences. These findings will enable educators to employ pedagogical strategies that will support student development of engineer identities.