While project-based learning powerfully brings students into real world economic and environmental contexts, a subject-oriented approach to such work means that they are often able to remain aloof of real stakeholder engagement and participation, even when working on a local site . Given their traditional comfort with abstraction and universalization in the process of problem definition, engineering students can be challenged by the immersive problem-framing processes demanded by a contextual research design investigation .
Using the process of GIS site-mapping as an engagement tool may provide a strategy by which students can develop alternative methods of stakeholder engagement as part of their data gathering process and thus integrate social and community aspects into their site problem-framing in new ways.
Originally designed as an experiment to explore the potential for GIS mapping as a tool for creative spatial exploration in site design, this study uncovered an unexpected additional benefit to the open-ended site analysis processes undertaken. Student focus on geo-spatial site data and generative mapping processes seems to have simultaneously, perhaps through the head-fake of indirect learning , enabled ways of integrating stakeholder engagement with site visualization leading to a range of creative problem framing and problem research outcomes.
Taking a qualitative approach, this study analyses a graduate level Civil and Environmental engineering project-based GIS course and uses a text analysis of student interviews as well as visual analysis of student project work to extract student attitudes and approaches to site engagement. Transcribed interviews are bundled into representative issues and coded into categories by constant comparison .
The resultant analysis describes the variety of ways in which creative geo-spatial mapping as an instructional approach seems to enable alternative ways for students to integrate stakeholder and site engagement into their problem-framing process. Aspects such as sensations of safety, emotional connections, changing businesses and community paths made their way into students’ spatial data structures, issues which otherwise might not be integrated into the engineering curriculum. Outcomes suggest that the specific effort of producing consistent creative spatial-data site visualizations of community and site issues may give students a greater depth of stakeholder understanding or needs than might have been achieved through traditional engagement processes.
 M. Lehmann, P. Christensen, X. Du, and M. Thrane, “Problem-oriented and project-based learning (POPBL) as an innovative learning strategy for sustainable development in engineering education,” Eur. J. Eng. Educ., vol. 33, no. 3, pp. 283–295, Jun. 2008.
 D. Nieusma, “Engineering/Design Frictions: Exploring Competing Knowledge Systems via Efforts to Integrate Design Principles into Engineering Education,” in Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, Salt Lake City, 2018, p. 16.
 R. Pausch, The Last Lecture. Hyperion, 2014.
 J. M. Case and G. Light, “Emerging Research Methodologies in Engineering Education Research,” J. Eng. Educ., vol. 100, no. 1, pp. 186–210, Jan. 2011.
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