Jones Seminar: Supporting Knowledge Construction Discourse in Engineering Learning Environments

Kristen Wendell, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Tufts University

Friday, April 24, 2020, 3:30–4:30pm

Rm 100 (Spanos Auditorium), Cummings Hall

How K-12 and college students experience science and engineering learning environments is consequential for how – and whether – they later bring science and engineering to bear in their interactions with different sectors and members of society. In science education research, the construct of productive disciplinary engagement has been a useful tool for describing learning experiences where students authentically take up the practices of a scientific discipline toward making their own intellectual progress, including their own deepened conceptual knowledge. Similar work is now emerging to describe and support the elements of productive disciplinary engagement in engineering education.

In this talk, I will describe the efforts of my research group to characterize the discursive interactions among learners, teachers, and tools when engineering students are engaged productively in the doing of engineering and the building of engineering knowledge and reasoning. I will report on several studies in which our goal has been to identify learners’ practices that are both consistent with the discourses of disciplinary communities (e.g., practicing scientists and engineers) and that enable knowledge construction by the individual learners themselves. I will also present findings from design-based research studies in which we have developed and investigated tools to prompt more of these knowledge construction practices by engineering learners, including a design notebooking app and an undergraduate learning assistant training focused on responsive teaching. These studies have been situated in a range of engineering learning settings, from elementary classrooms to undergraduate engineering homework sessions. We primarily employ qualitative analytical techniques common in the learning sciences, including discourse analysis, interaction analysis, and multiple case study based on video recordings of learning environments. Our findings shed light on the distinctions and challenges of disciplinary discourse in engineering education, and they start to characterize productive responses to those challenges by both learners and teachers. I will conclude the talk by inviting reflection on the intersection of engineering education and studies in science, technology, and society.

About the Speaker

Kristen Wendell is associate professor of mechanical engineering and adjunct associate professor of education at Tufts University where she leads a research group at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) and is a founding member of the Tufts Institute for Research on Learning and Instruction (IRLI). Her research focuses on characterizing and supporting sophisticated discourse practices during engineering learning experiences in undergraduate courses, K-8 classrooms, and teacher education contexts. An NSF CAREER and PECASE award recipient, she serves as PI or co-PI on NSF-funded projects that investigate curriculum and instructional supports for K-8 science and engineering education and teacher development. She teaches senior design and sophomore dynamics and runs the undergraduate Learning Assistant program in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Tufts. Wendell previously served as assistant professor in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and she holds a PhD in science education from Tufts and BS and MS degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Princeton and MIT.

For more information, contact Megan Oman at