ECE Seminar

Examining engineering concepts in practice: Is conceptual understanding relevant to practice?

Shane BrownAssociate Professor and Associate Head for Undergraduate ProgramsSchool of Civil and Construction Engineering, Oregon State University

Concepts are ubiquitous in engineering education in many forms. Engineering educators have developed multiple concept inventories that are widely used to assess student learning and frequently have discussions about the importance of knowing the concepts. Academic artifacts such as textbooks are normally organized around engineering concepts. Although there is comfort in utilizing concepts as the organizing framework for engineering education, substantial evidence from multiple perspectives suggests that it may not be optimal for student learning or for preparation for engineering practice. Concepts at their core definition imply a sanitized transferable entity, that transcends context. However, theoretical perspectives of situated cognition suggest that concepts may not be the fundamental organizing schema for practitioners. Rather, project constraints and contexts may be an alternative lens for how engineers organize their knowledge. This research implemented two methodologies to examine the role of concepts in engineering practice, gathering concept inventory responses from practicing civil engineers, and studying the use of concepts in the design of a roundabout. Students perform better than practicing engineers on statics, fluid mechanics, and mechanics of materials concept inventory questions. Concepts in engineering practice related to roundabout design do not have static abstracted representations, but are continuously negotiated, abstracted, and represented in multiple forms. The explicit and implicit organization of concepts in engineering education may not be ideal for learning or preparation for the engineering workplace.
Dr. Shane Brown is an Associate Professor and the Associate School Head for Undergraduate Programs in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering. His research interests are in engineering education, with a focus on cognition and learning, faculty decision making related to teaching and curriculum development, and student engagement in the classroom. His cognition research utilizes theories of conceptual change to investigate why some concepts within transportation engineering and solid and fluid mechanics are hard to learn. He also conducts research on how fundamental concepts are used in engineering design in the workplace using theories of situated cognition. His efforts to develop and assess research-based educational interventions aim to improve student engagement in and out of the classroom environment and to improve student understanding of complex engineering concepts. Dr. Brown has more than five years of professional engineering experience and is a licensed professional engineer. He has secured more than $4.0 million in research funding as PI and $8 million as Co-PI. He has authored more than 90 peer reviewed journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers. Dr. Brown has been recognized for his efforts in teaching, research, and service with numerous university, regional and national awards, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, OSU Faculty Teaching Excellence Award and the national ASCE ExCEEd New Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award.

Sponsored by

Engineering Education Research

Faculty Host

Cindy Finelli