When Students Resist: Ethnography of a Senior Design Experience in Engineering Education

Gary Downey
Science and Technology Studies Program, Virginia Tech
332 Lane Hall, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061, USA
E-mail: downeyg@vt.edu

Juan Lucena
Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies, Stratton Hall, Colorado School of Mines Golden, CO 80401, USA
E-mail: jlucena@mines.edu

This ethnographic study explores how engineering students in a traditional senior design course interpreted design assignments in terms of the engineering sciences. These students, who had been taught to value the distinction between `science’ and `design,’ tended to resist design education. They had learned to think about design as a trivial extension of mathematical problem solving. This predisposition made it difficult for activist faculty to convince students that design introduces entirely new learning issues. Although limited in scope, this study suggests that for reform in engineering education to be successful, it may need to go beyond engineering design to rework teaching in the engineering sciences as well.


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