In an attempt to learn more about the history of engineering education research (EER), Nicole, Juan, Ruth, and I were looking through all of JEE's guest editorials between January 2005 to April 2008. There were 14 in total. Here's what I noticed.

  • All these articles contain a lot of personal thank-yous. There are people here -- people who've known each other for a long time. (And I've met some of them, too -- I was an engineering undergrad at the time most of these articles were written, studying in an environment at Olin heavily influenced by precisely these people, these papers, and this dialogue... but I didn't know Sherra Kerns -- the same cool, friendly "Doc" who let us ride her Segway around the building -- was doing this!)
  • There's a lot of reference to national studies -- we're seeing a primarily economic justification, with a "good workforce for AMERICA!" as the desired output. This makes sense, since federal funding makes up a large portion of EER's budget.
  • Paradigm shift terminology being used everywhere, portraying EER's transition from a dull past to a brighter future. Lots of "we are changing fast" verbiage and self-identification as an "emerging discipline."
  • Centered around academia and efforts within faculty -- no recognition of student, industry, etc. change efforts
  • Many calls for community and unity, couched in big-picture, grand-thinking language. I am suspicious that this is is not the whole story, since my experience tells me people who feel the need to make grand calls and claims for unity... aren't unified. If you're really unified, you can take all that for granted, and you talk about other things.

I also wrote up a (heavily opinionated) chronological summary of what we read (maybe I'll be non-lazy enough to put in proper citations someday -- though Nicole is likely to beat me to that):

January 2005: (Lohmann, 2005) takes the helm of the JEE, summarizing the publication's history and giving thanks to many individual names. It's clear that sea changes are taking place to raise journal quality; Lohmann details the introduction of review criteria, the writing of a mission, vision, and philosophy, and presents statistics on the improvement of article review rates -- including, interestingly enough, a numerically-described increase in "review quality" to "2.1 out of 3.0" and an average decision letter length of "2,200 words." (p. 2)

(Felder, Sheppard, and Smith, 2005) justify the need for the JEE by citing national studies and reform efforts by ABET and the NSF -- huge, country-wide organizations and initiatives. It describes a past that we are moving on from, a past that "focused almost exclusively on practice, structuring lecture courses and laboratories to teach the design and operation of engineering equipment and processes." (p. 9)

(Shulman, 2005) speaks from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which has been studying professional education and comparing engineers to medical professionals, lawyers, clergy, and teachers -- whose professional training is also undergoing revision to meet a changing world. Shulman speaks as if a quantum leap has just occurred: "we now expect engineering educators to apply the same standards of rigor and reflection to innovation and experimentation in education that we have traditionally applied to the work of engineering itself" (p. 11) -- implying that it wasn't expected before, I suppose. He ends with a plea for EER to both draw from and contribute back to education research.

April 2005: (Kerns, 2005) takes the tone of "let's look forward to a new future together with hope" -- an optimistic dawning of engineering education in response to national studies, and a call to stay together as a community as we walk into this new future. Jack Lohmann has just been appointed the editor of JEE.

July 2005: (Gabrielle, 2005) writes from the Engineering Education center of the NSF about globalization as a trend that will shape and influence engineering education.

October 2005: (Haghighi, 2005) starts with the same pointer to national studies of the need for a different sort of engineering workforce: global, flexible, able to keep pace with changes. It calls for EER on "fundamental" questions, such as "what is the nature of problem identification, formulation and solution?" and "How do you nurture critical thinking, innovation, and ingenuity?" (p. 351) It's clear this is a "new discipline for a new community of scholars," as a section header on p. 351 proclaims. We are shifting; we are on the verge of a transformation, and we must stay together and communicate with one another. JEE is described as a venue for communications, and Purdue's new ENE program as "a new and ground-breaking graduate degree program... [with] future faculty members, educators, and professionals [who] will usher in increasingly innovative levels of science and scholarship in engineering education." A quote from the end sums up the current attitudes well: "The time of quiet crisis in engineering education is giving way to an intentional and visible paradigm shift in engineering attributes and outcomes, foundational research, and educational pedagogy. Our engineering education community must now orchestrate... to generate the ultimate product: future engineers prepared to lead and participate in the emerging global economy." (p. 352)

January 2006: (Fortenberry, 2006) also quotes national studies and the need to adapt engineering education to be centered on the human needs of a diverse population. Fortenberry encourages and proposes a framework for building and coordninating community around large-scale EER efforts; CAEE is mentioned as "one of a constellation of organizations working to enhance the quality of the engineering workforce" (p. 4). It'll be interesting to see how those compare to the later JEE paper that sets what we now think of as "the EER areas.":

  • The psychology of learning.
  • The physiology of learning.
  • The sociology of learning.
  • The finances of learning.
  • Management and accountability structures.

April 2006: (Streveler & Smith, 2006) write about "conducting rigorous research in engineering education," based on their RREE workshops for engineering educators looking to shift to education research. We see a description of the "old way" of small-scale practitioner research that wasn't linked to learning theory, the desire to move to a "new way" of more "rigorous" and "big picture" research, and the recognition that retraining and retooling is needed for this to occur. The term "paradigm shift" is once again used. (p. 104) (Edit for post-discussion note: Ruth pointed out, via Nicole, that this paper and Ruth/Karl's work introduced the word "rigor" as a key word in engineering education discourse. Previously, the dialogue was calling for a "systematic" approach to research -- they started the trend of also calling for a "rigorous" one).

July 2006: (Wormley, 2006) echoes the "national studies have found a need for reinventing engineering education" theme, with a call to action focused on preparing engineers for global innovation.

October 2006: (Radcliffe, 2006) brings up Boyer's "Scholarship Revisited" (1990) and his 4 concepts of scholarship: discovery, integration, teaching, and application. It also echoes the (by-now) familiar call of "let's develop innovative engineers," but more explicitly describes the mindset of "technical rationality" as what we are moving forward from.

We can compare Fortenberry's January 2006 proposal to the CSEE's 5-point EER agenda, written in a separate (and authorless) "special report" section and referred-to by Radcliffe:

  • Engineering Thinking, Knowledge, and Competencies.
  • Socially-Relevant Engineering
  • Learning to Engineer
  • Engineering Education Pedagogies
  • Engineering Assessment Methodologies

January 2007: (Bransford, 2007) deals entirely with adaptation to rapid change. The world is changing quickly, and we need to learn to adapt to it in order to be innovative (a positive thing). It's not only an individual's job to make themselves innovative; this can be helped or hindered by their environment, and adaptability/innovation have ripple-out effects. Therefore, engineering educators must design adaptive environments so engineers can design adaptive societies.

April 2007: (Katehi & Ross, 2007) It's not just about content, it's about developing knowledge and creativity "with the support of intricate and robust intellectual and social communities." (p. 89) Let's apply this freedom of imagination to experimenting with our curricula.

April 2008: (Haghighi et. al., 2008) starts by describing EER as combining "deep knowledge of engineering with similarly deep knowledge of learning and pedagogy" which is "more than simply a 'marriage'" of the two disciplines (p. 119). It takes the tone of being a little ways into the start of history. After an era of marginalized, isolated, and unsupported faculty members, a fledgling community is now taking wing with the help of funding and award recognition. Now, the authors claim, is the time to extend our influence to "transform our disciplinary culture" (p. 120) and impact the actual education of engineers.