In this study, I sought to identify differences in the views and understandings of engineering design among individuals along the learning-to-teach continuum. To do so, I conducted a comprehensive review of literature to determine the various aspects of engineering design described in the fields of professional engineering and engineering education. Additionally, I reviewed literature on the methods used in teaching engineering design at the secondary (grade 7-12) level – to describe the various models used in classrooms, even before the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013). Last, I defined four groups along the learning-to-teach continuum: prospective, preservice, and practicing teachers, as well as teacher educators.
The context of this study centered around a California public university, including an internship program where undergraduates engaged with practicing mentor teachers in science and engineering teaching at local high schools, and a teacher education program where secondary science preservice teachers and the teacher educators who taught them participated. Interviews were conducted with all participants to gain insights into their views and understandings of engineering design. Prospective and preservice teachers were interviewed multiple times throughout the year and completed concept maps of the engineering design process multiple times as well; practicing teachers and teacher educators were interviewed once.
Three levels of analyses were conducted. I identified 30 aspects of engineering discussed by participants. Through phenomenographic methods, I also constructed six conceptual categories for engineering design to organize those aspects most commonly discussed. These categories were combined to demonstrate a participant’s view of engineering design (e.g., business focused, human centered, creative, etc.) as well as their complexity of understanding of engineering design overall (the more categories their ideas fit within, the more complex their understanding was thought to be).
I found that the most commonly referenced aspects of engineering design were in line with the three main dimensions described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013). I also found that the practicing teacher participants overall conveyed the most complex and integrated understandings of engineering design, with the undergraduate, prospective teachers not far behind. One of the most important factors related to a more integrated understanding of engineering design was having formal engineering experience, especially in the form of conducting engineering research or having been a professional engineer.
Further, I found that female participants were more likely than their male counterparts to view engineering as having a human element—recognizing the need to collaborate with others throughout the process and the need to think about the potential user of the product the engineer is solving the problem for. These findings suggest that prior experience with engineering, and not experience in the classroom or with engineering education, tends to lead to a deeper, more authentic view of engineering. Finally, I close with a discussion of the overall findings, limitations of the study, potential implications, and future work.