Studies of Engineering Educator Decisions (SEED)

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Enabling Engineering Student Success >>

CAEE Final Report, Section 3.0 contains details about SEED

SEED Interview Protocol >>

Questions for investigating approaches to teaching through the analysis of teaching decisions

The Studies of Engineering Educator Decisions sought to understand and impact engineering educators’ approaches to teaching through research using a decision-making lens.

Research Questions

  • How do engineering educators commit to action in teaching?
  • To what extent and in what ways do engineering educators enact effective teaching practices?
  • What are strengths and limitations in how engineering educators conceptualize students?
A fourth question emerged during work on the first three research questions: How can a focus on decisions and decision narratives be used in teacher professional development?

Methods and Study Sample

The SEED research used the Critical Decision Method (CDM) approach to gain insight into teaching decisions made by engineering educators. Faculty were asked to describe two specific teaching decisions that they had made recently: (1) a decision made during the planning stage for a class, and (2) an interactive decision made on the fly” during interaction with students. The team developed, and made available for use by others, a four-page interview protocol to investigate faculty teaching decisions with questions based on a semi-structured interview approach.

CAEE researchers interviewed 31 engineering faculty at a large public research-oriented university. The faculty participants came from nine of ten engineering departments. Twelve were full professors with tenure, 7 were associate professors with tenure, 7 were assistant professors on a tenure track, and 5 were non-tenure track faculty. Four of the participants had higher-level administrative roles within the university in addition to their faculty appointments. Women were deliberately oversampled for the study resulting in 23 male and 10 female faculty participants.

Results and Observations

Most of the educators reacted positively to the focus on decisions and decision making. All were able to provide a rationale for their decisions and both the consideration of time and allusions to prior decisions were common features of their rationale. Participants collectively mentioned a variety of sources of information as being useful in decision making although education research was infrequently mentioned as a source. We were able to identify five patterns in terms of satisfaction with their teaching decisions.

The engineering educators in our sample reported using a variety of teaching practices that are known to increase student motivation to learn, but they mentioned less frequently practices such as providing students with opportunities for autonomy, enabling all students to feel respected, and providing students with opportunities to demonstrate their growing competence. All of the educators differentiated among students at some point and student behavior was the most prevalent basis for this differentiation. Differentiation based on other dimensions (including what students know, their educational and demographic classifications) was also prevalent but less so.