In engineering education, researchers have exhibited increased interest in students’ epistemological thinking in their development from novices to competent engineers -. Prior research suggested that students’ design experiences had positive relationship with their epistemological development . Also, extensive experiential learning experiences in engineering courses positively influenced students’ intellectual growth .
Senior design projects, as culminating, comprehensive design experiences for engineering undergraduate, were hypothesized to be associated with the steep growth in students’ epistemological development during the last year of college . Nevertheless, few studies have specifically explored engineering students’ epistemological thinking and the associated factors in the context of senior design.
This work-in-progress adopted a mixed methods design, and explored engineering students’ epistemological thinking in the context of senior design projects. A validated survey framed in Perry’s theory was used to explore engineering students’ epistemological development at the end of their senior year. So far, about 140 survey responses were collected from among senior engineering students from the engineering schools of University H. Also, thirty-one students from the survey respondents were interviewed in a one-on-one manner to explore the factors that were associated with students’ epistemological development in a senior design context.
Preliminary results suggested that most of the students were in an advanced stage of epistemological thinking, that is, students demonstrate a constructive, relativistic manner of thinking according to Perry’s theory. In addition, qualitative analyses indicated that, the way how senior design projects were organized, that is, whether they were individual or group projects, where they were university-sponsored or university-industry co-sponsored projects, can make a difference in students’ learning experiences, which were then closely related to their different demonstrations of epistemological thinking. Moreover, people factors such as mentors’ roles and functions in the senior design process were also associated with students’ epistemological development. Built upon these findings, possible ways to optimize the organization and implementation of senior design projects will be proposed.
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