Undergraduate Research Experiences (UREs) have been shown to enhance an undergraduate student’s academic experience, deepen their understanding of their field, and lead to increased retention of undergraduate students within STEM programs. While UREs may improve undergraduate STEM education, not all students can access UREs due to either constraints on their time and/or resources or the resources of their undergraduate institution. The overarching goal of this research project, “Student Perspectives on Researcher Identity and Transformation of Epistemologies (SPRITE),” is to determine how students develop a researcher identity and epistemic beliefs through UREs, and then to develop a theoretical model that captures epistemic beliefs and identity development from the student’s perspective. In the final phase of our project, we will develop methods to incorporate these elements into traditional learning environments that are accessible to all undergraduate engineering students. In this paper, we will report on the initial phases of our project including the development of our interview protocol, and participant recruitment and selection.
In the first project phase, a survey was deployed to five institutions of varying size, type, and location. The survey consisted of demographic questions, 16 open-ended items designed to understand students’ conceptualizations of research and their beliefs about themselves as researchers, and 45 closed-ended items designed to measure their engineering epistemic beliefs and need for cognitive closure. Survey data collection is ongoing; this paper reports on results from our initial survey deployment (n=113 completed surveys). Inductive, open coding techniques were used to analyze responses to the open-ended questions to capture the range of ideas found in the data. Close-ended questions were analyzed based on composite scores for six theoretical factors (Closed-mindedness, Discomfort with Ambiguity, Certainty of Knowledge, Sources of Knowledge, Simplicity of Knowledge, and Justification of Knowledge). Five factors with high reliability measures (Closed-mindedness, Discomfort with Ambiguity, Certainty of Knowledge, Sources of Knowledge and Justification of Knowledge) were used for cluster analyses, the results of which we are using to guide interview participant selection. Survey data and salient theories of epistemic beliefs and epistemic cognition were used to develop an interview protocol for the next phase of the study. Interview questions will probe students’ conceptualizations of research and their beliefs about themselves as researchers, the processes they use to make decisions and trouble-shoot problems in their research projects, their beliefs about knowledge in their field, and factors that students identify as influential in their research experiences.
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