Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Conceptual Representations within the Social and Material Contexts of an Engineering Workplace and Academic Environments Public Deposited

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  • Situated cognition theory emphasizes the role that social and material contexts have on learning and knowledge application. Several studies of engineering workplace environments have noted differences between the social and material contexts of the workplace and those of undergraduate engineering education. No existing research has studied the social and material contexts of both workplace and academic environments, specifically focusing on how these contexts influence conceptual representations within a single engineering discipline. Conceptual representations are the social and material contexts that mediate how concepts are represented, such as language, text, symbols, diagrams, equations, and other tools. Differences in the social and material contexts mediating conceptual representations across workplace and academic environments may be partially responsible for the engineering education-practice gap and is an underexplored topic. The purpose of this research is to explore a structural engineering workplace environment and undergraduate structural engineering courses to document conceptual representations and the social and material contexts that mediate them within both these workplace and academic environments. Ethnographic methods were used to access and explore these environments in-depth through participating in and observation of their respective social and material contexts. Findings from this exploration noted that conceptual representations in the academic environments exhibited a lesser degree of tangibility to real-world conditions, project/stakeholder constraints, and engineering tools than conceptual representations in the workplace. Furthermore, engineering tools such as codes and standards were applied in more evaluative ways in the workplace environment compared to more prescriptive applications of these tools in the academic environments. Lastly, engineering heuristics in the workplace environments were more likely to be practice-based than the heuristics used in the academic environment, which were more profession-based. These findings offer unique frameworks for characterizing conceptual representations such as: degrees of tangibility, prescriptive versus evaluative code use, and practice-based versus profession-based heuristics, which may be applicable for describing the sociomaterial nature of conceptual representations across other engineering workplace and academic environments.
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