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Wicked Problems in Engineering Education
Chalmers tekniska högskola. (UmSER)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9667-2044
2017 (English)In: European Conference on Educational Research, Copenhagen, Denmark, 22-25 August, 2017, 2017Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the Environmental and Sustainability Education Research (ESER) community

in how to prepare students to address wicked problems (WPs), i.e. particularly ill-structured problems that lack single right solutions

and that are characterized by a high degree of complexity, uncertainty and the presence of conflicting norms and values (Rittel &

Webber, 1973). In the domain of Environmental and Sustainability Education (ESE), examples of WPs are climate change, resource

scarcity and resource-related international conflict. At the 2016 ECER conference, two full symposia were devoted to research on

WPs in ESE. Also in other fields, such as the field of Engineering Education Research, the concept of WPs is receiving increasing

attention. However, the body of empirical research on how to prepare students to address WPs is still limited. In this contribution, I

aim to contribute to the empirical and theoretical discussion on WPs in ESER and Engineering Education Research by providing a

summary of my PhD thesis on WPs in engineering education.

An important aim of my research is to contribute to educational practice. Therefore, I have chosen a pragmatic approach in which I

have combined several different theoretical frameworks and research methodologies. Due to the lack of previous research, I started

with conceptual/theoretical research to establish a theoretical base from which I then proceeded to empirical/applied research.

I performed four research studies in which I investigated different aspects of WPs in engineering education. In the first study, I

developed a conceptual foundation to better understand the nature of WPs and different ways of addressing them. Second, I

performed an empirical study to identify different approaches to WPs. Third, I collaborated with engineering educators to identify

fruitful ways to further develop the theoretical insights from the first two studies such that these insights could contribute to

educational practice. Finally, I performed an intervention study to develop, implement and evaluate an approach to teaching and

assessing an integrative understanding of WPs in an engineering education context. The research from these studies is reported in

four journal papers and two conference papers (see references).

Based on the studies and a review of research literature from ESER, Engineering Education Research and related fields, I will

address the following questions in my presentation:

1. What are WPs?

2. What are different ways of approaching WPs and which of them is most in line with the general aims of ESE?

3. What do engineering students need to learn to address WPs in a way that is in line with the general aims of ESE?

4. How can understanding the nature of WPs be taught and assessed in engineering education?

5. What questions remain?

I used a pragmatic approach to research methodology rather than restricting the research to a single theoretical or methodological

approach. In my presentation, I will report on four research studies. I will combine the insights gained from these studies in an

attempt to answer more general questions about wicked problems in engineering education than would be possible for each study in

isolation. This is possible because the studies build on each other: In the later studies, I used the results from earlier studies as a

basis for formulating new research questions and for designing studies to answer those questions. Depending on the aims of each

study, I chose different methodological approaches.

In the first study, I used a conceptual/theoretical approach, supported by content analysis of qualitative interviews with ten engineering students. In the second study, I chose a phenomenographic approach, using the same empirical material as in the first study. In the third study, I used the results from the first and second study as a theoretical basis for an action research project in which I collaborated with engineering educators to identify ways to render the theoretical results from the first two studies more useful for educational practice. Finally, in the fourth study, I aimed to respond to the needs that the educators expressed in the third study. For this purpose, I used a design-based research approach to develop and evaluate an educational intervention for teaching engineering students to understand the nature of WPs, and an assessment rubric to assess students’ learning in the intervention. Both the intervention and the assessment rubric are theoretically grounded in the results from the first, second and third study. To evaluate the intervention and the rubric, I used a mixed-methods approach in which I combined quantitative analysis of student performance and rubric reliability with qualitative analysis of student learning and rubric validity and utility.

In the first study, we developed a conceptual framework for talking about the use of multiple perspectives when addressing WPs. We further identified the need to not only shift between multiple perspectives, but also integrate those perspectives when addressing WPs. In the second study, we described four qualitatively different ways of approaching a WP. We identified one of these approaches, a fully integrative approach, as most in line with the general aims of ESE. In the third study, we identified a need to develop tools for assessing engineering students’ ability to integratively address WPs. Finally, in the fourth study, we developed an analytic rubric to assess students’ written responses to WPs, and an educational intervention that is heavily based on the rubric. In that study, we found that the rubric provided opportunities for students to learn to understand the nature of WPs and to craft written responses to WPs. We also found that the rubric could be used to assess that learning, and that it also was useful for teacher training and formative assessment. However, we also found that the rubric may have provided too much cognitive scaffolding, thus excessively guiding the process of responding to WPs and not supporting deep engagement with the wickedness of the process of addressing WPs. In conclusion, we suggested that preparing students to address WPs may require limiting the amount of cognitive scaffolding, even when students express frustration about the presence of uncertainty and value conflicts and a lack of clear directions and definite answers. We further suggested that future research should investigate the relationship between cognitive and affective scaffolding, for example whether it could be possible to replace some cognitive scaffolding with affective scaffolding to limit the negative effects of students’ frustration without having to tame the process of addressing WPs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keywords [en]
wicked problems, phenomenography, design-based research, mixed-methods, assessment rubric
National Category
Didactics
Research subject
didactics of natural science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-158211OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-158211DiVA, id: diva2:1305355
Conference
ECER 2017
Available from: 2019-04-16 Created: 2019-04-16 Last updated: 2019-04-26Bibliographically approved

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https://eera-ecer.de/ecer-programmes/conference/22/contribution/41255/

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