(Re)Constructing the Professional Formation of Engineers: A Human-Centered Model of Communication Design

2019-05-14T19:36:32Z (GMT) by David H. Torres
<div>This study introduced a design-inspired approach to unpack problems of professional formation</div><div>of engineers: 1) the gap between what students learn in universities and what they practice upon</div><div>graduation; 2) the perception that engineering is solely technical, math, and theory oriented; and</div><div>3) the lack of diversity and inclusion (incorporation of difference in perspectives, values, and</div><div>ways of thinking and being engineers) in many engineering programs. The current project</div><div>investigated the discursive practices and institutional processes that contributed to or inhibited</div><div>innovative and inclusive professional formation within an undergraduate engineering setting.</div><div>Specifically, this project showed how Grounded Practical Theory (GPT), Communication as</div><div>Design (CaD), and Human-Centered Design (HCD) offer alternative pathways to conceptualize</div><div>the processes of professional formation.</div><div><br></div><div><div>The context for this study involved the professional formation of engineers at a School of</div><div>Biomedical Engineering (BME) at a large, Midwestern university. Participants for this study</div><div>included undergraduate students and faculty, staff, and administration (FSA). Semi-structured</div><div>interview data was collected and explored participants’ descriptions, accounts, and experiences</div><div>related to professional engineering formation in BME. Data collection included 33 total</div><div>interviews including 15 FSA and 18 student interviews. The study involved an empirical</div><div>examination of discursive practices that invoked, reproduced, and maintained discourses of</div><div>professional engineering at the BME school.</div></div><div><br></div><div><div>Based on insights gained from the empirical examination of discursive practices, a GPT</div><div>framework was applied to examine conflicts in professional formation, strategies participants</div><div>used to overcome these challenges, and the underlying rationale for these strategies. Specifically, the goal of gaining a broad knowledge base—incorporating expertise across various engineering</div><div>and science disciplines—often can come at the expense of realizing specific application and</div><div>technical know-how. For many participants, both goals were critical for becoming a professional</div><div>biomedical engineer but often times blocked a discourse of professional formation that was</div><div>innovative and inclusive. Participants revealed that a standard lecture curriculum influenced this</div><div>tension, in many cases for the worse. However, findings suggested that strategies for overcoming</div><div>these conflicts were by integrating lecture curricula with more active learning formats (e.g.,</div><div>undergraduate research, lab participation). Moreover, findings showed how standard lecture</div><div>communication designs shaped and maintained a discourse community more likely to emphasize</div><div>understanding engineering as a science and also gaining a broad knowledge base often times at</div><div>the expense of realizing specific application and technical know-how.</div></div><div><br></div><div><div>This study’s analysis offers several theoretical contributions. First, GPT pointed to the deeply</div><div>integrated relationship between the ontological and epistemological foundations of biomedical</div><div>engineering professional formation. That is, becoming a biomedical engineer meant having</div><div>knowledge of several sets of disciplinary expertise while also understanding when and how to</div><div>enact this knowledge in practice. Second, professional formation designs for communication</div><div>(e.g., lecture designs, active learning designs) presupposed something about the recurrent</div><div>practices held within the school and how these recurrent practices constituted professional</div><div>ontology and epistemology in ways that were both enabling and problematic, Third, and from a</div><div>HCD perspective, exploring designs for communication brought to life the ways participants,</div><div>through interactivity, actively designed discourses of professional formation in an attempt to</div><div>achieve and meet their epistemological and ontological goals.</div></div>