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Uncovering the Layers of Design Processes of a Global Undergraduate Engineering Course: An Interactional Ethnographic Approach



Uncovering the Layers of Design Processes of a Global Undergraduate Engineering Course: An Interactional Ethnographic Approach


Jenna (Ji Eun) Joo

This dissertation presents an ethnographic study of an instructor’s design logic and thinking underlying a global, multi-country undergraduate engineering design course. The study analyzed how, in what ways, and for what purposes, he continually defined and reformulated what counted as (Heap, 1991) “new” learning opportunities and outcomes for engineering design thinking in the 21st century, through his interactions with globally distributed groups of students and teaching teams (i.e., US, India, Israel, China and South Korea). By examining what was discursively made present to students in moment-by-moment and over-time, I identified the processes and practices that members of the class needed to know, understand, produce and engage in (Heath & Street, 2008) to develop their capacities to work in intercultural contexts on local design problems.

Discourse analysis guided by an Interactional Ethnographic logic-in-use (Birdwhistell, 1977), grounded in a social construction of knowledge perspective (i.e., Green, Skukauskaite, and Baker, 2012; Castanheira, Crawford, Dixon and Green, 2001), framed the ways in which I examined the work of participants, what they oriented to and were held accountable for, and how what counted as this “new” instructional approach was socially constructed (Heap, 1991; Bloome & Egan-Robertson, 1993, Castanheira et al, 2001). This inquiry process required consideration of multimodal texts available to students in different technology-enabled educational contexts, public (re)presentations of this developing program as well as the construction of transcripts. From this perspective, texts were spoken, written and/or published works (Bakhtin, 1986) constructed by key actors (the designer, the support team, a teaching assistant and students).

The analyses made visible how the instructor’s discourse focused students on taking a problem-oriented approach to resolving challenges in working interculturally on a common task (e.g., the design thinking project). Three inter-related challenges that impacted the collaborative work and opportunities for learning for students were identified that influenced how the course was designed. The first involved the instructor’s desire to engage each participating campus site in face-to-face opportunities from their national sites. The second related to the necessity to address the unique institutional and socio-national contexts of each institution. And, the third, led to the need for the instructor to adapt the planned program to address unanticipated differences in participation due to the holidays in each country.

The present study demonstrates how designing a global course created unanticipated challenges not only for students but also for the instructor, a factor not considered in discussions of innovative design initiatives in higher education. Additionally, this study makes visible how undertaking an Interactional Ethnographic approach, grounded in discourse analysis, makes possible an iterative, recursive and abductive process for constructing warranted understandings of new and emerging curricular design processes in particular interdisciplinary and intercultural (global) contexts.

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