Calls for reform within engineering education frequently cite the need to better prepare the future workforce for the imminent challenges that they will face. The focus in preparing students for the workforce is often on the educational system and not on understanding the actual workplace. But if we are to better prepare students for the workforce, we must better understand what occurs and is valued within the workplace. Little research to date has focused on this aspect but recent engineering education funding solicitations have started to shift their focus to include research within engineering practice, indicating a valuing of understanding authentic engineering practice, its standards, and norms. Understanding the standard ways in which engineers perceive knowledge and ways in which it differs from students therefore can provide valuable insight to improving engineering education.
This dissertation addresses these issues by examining real-world interdisciplinary engineering problems to determine how knowledge is perceived within engineering practice, by engineers themselves, and through student expectations. Using a process of inquiry informed by qualitative research methods (particularly ethnography, phenomenological interviews, and semi-structured clinical interviews), the author examined the knowledge of practicing engineers and students. Based on data gathered, the author developed two manuscripts that examine how knowledge is negotiated in a social setting within engineering and how engineers and students differ in their perception of knowledge. The third and final manuscript utilizes the findings from the first two manuscripts to inform the development of a research-based instructional strategy.