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  1. Over the past decade, much attention has focused on change-making efforts, especially those funded by the NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments program. We bring together theory on agency and intersectional power to investigate a research question: • How and over what/whom do faculty engaged in departmental change efforts express agency, with attention to structural, cultural, normative, and interpersonal power relations? We draw upon recordings of faculty meetings and interviews across multiple change teams and years to characterize consequential change agency. Analysis of these highlights how accounts of contentious events reveals power dynamics at play, and ways those in power prevent or promote change. We argue that key elements of change agency include meeting others where they are, sharing agency with them (“we”), using potential control verbs (can, could, might, etc.), acknowledging their concerns, and inviting them into the effort in ways that suggest ownership.
  2. Despite being at the center of undergraduate engineering education, laboratory experiments have remained unchanged for decades, resulting in assignments lacking in opportunities for students to learn and grow. We used a survey to measure students’ sense of agency in prototypical design and laboratory courses at research universities. We found students in laboratory courses at both levels experienced significantly lower framing agency than their peers in senior design, and that even those engaged in authentic course-based research did not perceive the experiments as more agentive or authentic. We infer students drew upon abundant low-agency experiences in laboratory experiments; maximizing learning in laboratory courses may hinge on clearer communication about authentic experiments or systematic redesign of earlier courses
  3. A key challenge in engineering design problem framing is defining requirements and metrics. This is difficult, in part, because engineers must make decisions about how to treat qualitative and subjective issues, like stakeholder preferences, about how to prioritize different requirements, and about how to maintain tentativeness and ill-structuredness in the solution space. And this is made more challenging in light of the function of requirements in other types of engineering problems, like feasibility analysis, in which the requirements should converge on a decision. Given these challenges, it is unsurprising that there is limited research on how first-year students approach such work, how they make sense of requirements, and how their conceptualizations of requirements change with instruction. Our purpose in this study is to investigate students’ initial understanding and use of engineering requirements in a specific problem solving context. We developed a survey to measure students’ perceptions related to engineering requirements based on constructs derived from the literature on engineering requirements. We implemented the survey in a first-year and in senior courses for the purpose of validating items using factor analysis. Following this, we conducted analysis of survey and interview data restricted to the first-year course, including epistemic beliefs and analysismore »of students’ agency. Through exploratory factor analysis, we found that factors did not converge around constructs as described in the literature. Rather, factors formed around the forms of information leveraged to develop requirements. Through qualitative analysis of students’ responses on the survey and to interviews, we evaluated the extent to which students expressed agency over their use of requirements to make decisions within a course project. We describe implications of this exploratory study in terms of adapting research instruments to better understand this topic. Further, we consider pedagogical implications for first year programs and beyond in supporting students to develop ownership over decision making related to engineering requirements.« less
  4. Empathy is vital to ethical, effective design, yet vexing to teach. While research suggests empathy can be developed through human-centered design, students still tend to narrowly scope design problems, ignore the heterogeneity of the stakeholders, and focus on only mainstream or very few individuals with specific needs. While engineering education has come to value empathy, literature suggests that we still have a very limited understanding of its nuances. We address this issue by introducing the construct expansive empathy, which we define as the ability to understand and generate inclusive design solutions that incorporate the complex interactions among the engineering system and the needs of diverse stakeholders, including those who are marginalized, mainstreamed, and vulnerable. We adapted the Interpersonal Reactivity Index to develop a measure to capture expansive empathy and performed an exploratory factor analysis. We examined factor structure using data collected at the beginning of a senior design class. Initial results suggest that students have not developed expansive empathy in their previous engineering courses.
  5. In contrast to the dynamic treatment of other aspects of the curriculum, and despite being at the center of chemical engineering education, laboratory experiments have remained largely unchanged for decades. To characterize the potential impact changes to laboratory courses could have, we explored student perceptions across a department and characterized the kinds of opportunities students have to use their agency in these courses across universities. We used a survey to measure students’ sense of agency across several laboratory courses in a chemical engineering department. We found students in laboratory courses across the chemical engineering laboratory sequence, including those engaged in authentic course-based research did not perceive the experiments as agentive or authentic. We infer students draw upon abundant low-agency experiences in laboratory experiments. We report on the agency that instructors report students possessing across two chemical engineering departments to understand variation across institutions. Maximizing learning in laboratory courses may hinge on clearer communication about authentic experiments or systematic redesign of earlier courses.
  6. For years, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in New Mexico has led an outreach effort called Mission to Mars to engage fifth grade students in applying science and mathematics concepts related to building a colony on Mars. Many organizations across the US canceled similar events due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This design case details the original program and the pivot made to continue the program. We share successes—including reaching more rural learners—insights, and challenges, and how these have shaped a more inclusive vision for future programs.
  7. Background: Because of prior experience solving well-structured problems that have single, correct answers, students often struggle to direct their own design work and may not understand the need to frame ill-structured design problems. Purpose: Framing agency—defined as making decisions that are consequential to framing design problems and learning through this process—sheds light on students’ treatment of design problems; by framing, we mean the various actions designers take to understand, define, and bound the problem. Using the construct framing agency, we sought to characterize design team discourse to detect whether students treated design problems as ill- or well-structured and examine the consequences of this treatment. Method: Data were collected through extended participant observation of a capstone design course in a biomedical engineering program at a large research university. Data included audio and video records of design team meetings over the course of framing and solving industry-sponsored problems. For this paper, we analyzed three cases using sociolinguistic content analysis to characterize framing agency and compared the cases to illuminate the nuances of framing agency. Results: All teams faced impasses; one team navigated the impasse by framing the problem, whereas the others treated the problem as given. We identified markers of agency inmore »students’ discourse, including tentative language, personal pronouns, and sharing ownership. Conclusions: Framing agency clarifies the kinds of learning experiences students need in order to overcome past experiences dominated by solving archetypical well-structured problems with predetermined solutions.« less
  8. While research suggests that community-engaged projects can be particularly effective, such work is notoriously time consuming and not scalable. The learning curve for an organization seeking to start such work is steep. Additionally, it is important to evaluate to what extent work typified as community engaged work actually creates a participatory space of communitycentered perspectives regarding roles, interests, worldviews, actions and outcomes. To this end, we developed a formative assessment tool using previously identified domains [1]. This tool, created in partnership between a university and an outreach group affiliated with the Air Force, allows organizations to evaluate existing projects and explore ways to develop on a path towards true community-engagement. The outreach group in this case undertakes significant STEM education within New Mexico, but in the past, a majority of the work has been done “for” or “to” communities, rather than “with” communities. We share development and initial use of the tool. By using the tool, several members made aspects of their work more explicit. Specifically, members shared ways they sought ideas, feedback, and insight from teachers, and how this informed their ongoing work. While the initial use of the tool revealed some uncertainty about community engagement, it opened spacemore »to value and expand existing practices aligned to community engagement. With increased use of the tool, members came to see some of their existing practices that were already aligned to community-engagement as more valued, and the individuals who led such work were positioned as contributing expertise, rather than anecdotes. Ongoing use of the tool, paired with leadership support, is driving the organization to change how they view community roles.« less
  9. Design thinking emphasizes that in addition to being creative, design solutions should be empathetic. Yet, research suggests there may be a tension between these goals, where focusing on empathy comes at a cost to creativity, sometimes by inducing fixation. We investigated this phenomenon through a quasi-experimental design with novice designers, contrasting two structured ideation techniques in which participants (N = 47) generated bad ideas prior to proposing beneficial ideas. Specifically, they used the wrong theory protocol (WTP) to generate harmful and humiliating ideas, and a variant in which they instead generated silly and impossible ideas (SIP). We used qualitative analysis to characterize their bad and beneficial ideas. Across two realistic design challenges, we found students’ initial bad design work was shaped by the technique they used, and that those who generated humiliating ideas were more likely to generate empathetic beneficial ideas afterward. No systematic differences were found in the breadth of solution ideas, suggesting this technique does not come at a cost to creativity. As a quick and easy-to-use technique, generating humiliating ideas prior to generating beneficial ideas holds promise as a means to reach design solutions that are both empathetic and creative.
  10. In making validity arguments, a central consideration is whether the instrument fairly and adequately covers intended content, and this is often evaluated by experts. While common procedures exist for quantitatively assessing this, the effect of loss aversion—a cognitive bias that would predict a tendency to retain items—on these procedures has not been investigated. For more novel constructs, experts are typically drawn from adjacent domains. In such cases, a related cognitive bias, the ownership effect, would predict that experts would be more loss averse when considering items closer to their domains. This study investigated whether loss aversion and the ownership effect are a concern in standard content validity evaluation procedures. In addition to including promising items to measure a relatively novel construct, framing agency, we included distractor items linked to other areas of our evaluators’ expertise. Experts evaluated all items following procedures outlined by Lawshe (1975). We found on average, experts were able to distinguish between the intended items and distractor items. Likewise, on average, experts were somewhat more likely to reject distractor items closer to their expertise. This suggests that loss aversion and the ownership effect are not likely to bias content validation procedures.