Extending Engineering Practice Research with Shared Qualitative Data

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

Research on engineering practice is scarce and sharing of qualitative research data can reduce the effort required for an aspiring researcher to obtain enough data from engineering workplaces to draw generalizable conclusions, both qualitative and quantitative. This paper describes how a large shareable qualitative data set on engineering practices was accumulated from 350 interviews and 12 field studies performed by the principal investigator and by students conducting PhD and capstone research projects. Ethical research practice required that sharing and reuse of qualitative data be considered from the start. The researchers’ interests and methods were aligned to maintain sufficient consistency to support subsequent analysis and re-analysis of data. Analysis helped to answer questions of fundamental significance for engineering educators: what do engineers do, and why are the performances of engineering enterprises so different in South Asia compared with similar enterprises in Australia? Analysis also demonstrated the overwhelming significance of technical collaboration in engineering practice. Conceiving engineering practice as a series of technical collaboration performances requires a more elaborate understanding of social interactions than is currently the case in engineering schools. Another finding is that global engineering competency could be better described in terms of “working with people who collaborate differently”. Research helped to demonstrate that formal treatment of technical collaboration in an engineering curriculum could help avoid student misconceptions about engineering practice that hinder their subsequent engineering performances.

 

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