Two experiences cultivated the development of my academic interest in the fuzzy boundaries between education, engineering, and psychology. The first was my junior-year enrollment in an undergraduate course at Purdue University offered by the School of Engineering Education – ENE 595M: Cognitive Engineering. This course was my introduction to theories of learning, both individual and collaborative, the latter of which triggered me to reflect on the wide variety of student-led, engineering design teams of which I had been a member. Specifically, I began to internally evaluate the effectiveness of those collaborative environments with respect to deep understanding and long-term retention of the core concepts fundamental to each group exercise, as well as possible areas for improvement.
The second was my part-time tenure as the assistant coach of the debate team at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School in West Lafayette, IN. The extremely diverse group of students that I was given the opportunity to work with represented a wide range of backgrounds including, but not limited to, racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic. All of their individual differences greatly influenced how each of them learned and what motivated each of them to achieve greater and greater successes, forcing me to first gain a richer appreciation for the ways in which people learn and then adapt to the differences in order to facilitate the goals of each student.
These two experiences initially drove my effort to pursue a Master of Science in Education degree and finally drives my effort to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy degree, with a proposed area of specialization in engineering education. My general research interests lie at the intersection of (a) transfer of learning, (b) collaborative learning, and (c) student motivation and engagement. Although beyond the scope of graduate-level research, consider my exposure to engineering capstone, senior design projects as the guiding inspiration for my general research interests.
Senior design projects often function as the capstone for undergraduate students in engineering, wherein teams are composed of students majoring in the same engineering discipline (e.g., civil engineering) but focusing on different areas of concentration (e.g., architectural, construction, environmental, geotechnical, hydraulics, materials, structural, and/or transportation). Moreover, the engineering design problems consist of real-world applications for which actual technical and nontechnical roles are simulated.
For me, this scenario sparks several questions that might warrant further consideration. If the purpose of an engineering design problem is to teach one or more particular core concepts, what is the effectiveness of a team-based approach to that engineering design problem for promoting individual learning of the core concept(s)? Likewise, what is the effectiveness of a team-based approach to that engineering design problem for promoting individual transfer of the core concept(s)?
Furthermore, these questions could also be framed in the context of the collective, where any possible solution requires, at least in part, each team member’s individual expertise. Keeping this in mind, how does each team member’s motivation to contribute to the solution fluctuate relative to a scenario where everyone knows that any one team member can just do all of the work necessary for solving the problem?
Although it would require an even more intensive system of resources, additional consideration could be given to the same issues across engineering disciplines, such as a design problem solved by teams composed of students majoring in different engineering disciplines (e.g., biomedical, chemical, electrical, and materials). A case like this one would more accurately reflect the multidisciplinary culture found in both research and industry.