Experiences of an inter-university final year research group in engineering education

Dawn Bennett, Sally A. Male, Nicoleta Maynard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUNDTo contribute to a national project aimed at enhancing industry engagement in engineering degrees, a research group was formed to supervise six final-year engineering students from two urban Australian universities. By establishing a community of practice, specifically a learning community (Wenger, 1998), and by investigating the experience of researchers in the group, in this study we developed and tested an approach to support students and supervisors who might otherwise be vulnerable due to isolation and the new and insulated status of engineering education research relative to research in technical engineering. Whilst graduate engineering research groups and engineering education research groups have been studied previously (e.g., Crede & Borrego, 2012 in the US; Mann, Brodie, Chang, & Howard, 2011 in Australia), this study is the first of its kind because it is rare for final year students to participate in inter-university research groups, or to undertake research in this field.PURPOSEThe study reported here sought to inform the efficacy of inter-institution research groups by investigating both supervisory and student experiences of an inter-institution learning community. This paper focuses on the experience of the supervisors. It describes the experience of a research group designed to support final year students and supervisors undertaking engineering education research.DESIGN/METHODWe established an inter-institutional research group with weekly group meetings. The data collection and analysis was informed by the theoretical framework of possible selves (Markus & Nurius, 1986) in which people are understood to be influenced by their awareness of possible future selves that are perceived as desirable, disconcerting, and/or achievable. These possible selves influence people’s perceptions of hopes, fears, goals and threats. This paper reports our investigation of the researchers’ and students’ experiences of hopes and fears, and their realisation, based on the reflections of the researchers. At the start of first semester and again after first semester, the researchers completed two questionnaires about hopes, fears and challenges. We independently analysed these reflections for themes relevant to the theory and to informing future development of similar research groups. Our findings were formed through discussion of our independent analyses. The six students also provided written reflections on their identities and hopes, fears, and expectations of the research experience, reported separately. RESULTSThe research group emerged as a successful learning community. Students and supervisors learned about research, theories, identities, relationships, and teamwork skills. We also learned from the students’ research data, which related to exposure to engineering practice during engineering degrees. Learning and supervision was enhanced by supervisors supporting and extending each other.CONCLUSIONSWe recommend inter-institutional research groups to support final-year engineering students undertaking engineering education research and also their supervisors. We recommend weekly, open, non-hierarchical group meetings; a community learning management system; diverse experience among supervisors; the support of department heads and other engineering education researchers; and pre-empting administrative and inter-institutional challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2013 Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE) Annual Conference
PublisherAustralasian Association for Engineering Education
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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