Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

American Society for Engineering Education 2019: Annual Conference & Exposition


This study uses phenomenographic research methodologies to identify qualitatively different ways engineering and architecture students conceptualize design creation; it seeks to discover if and how their conceptualizations of design creation relate to their conceptualizations of knowledge generation. This work extends prior research by King and Kitchener (1994) and others (Baxter Magolda, 1992; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Hofer & Pintrich, 2002; Perry, 1970) about the ways students develop increasingly sophisticated ways of: understanding and conceptualizing knowledge; sources of truth; how to evaluate various opinions and points-of-view; and ways to assess truthfulness and validity of new ideas. This project stems from the proposition that this development process manifests itself somewhat differently in fields that deal with physical sciences than in those grounded in the social sciences—the realm where these theories were established and defined. King and Kitchener (1994) have shown that conceptualizations of knowledge vary from one field to the next, yet little if any work has been done to assess and compare patterns of conceptualizations in the fields of architecture and engineering.

Many national regulatory boards urge engineering to change its educational practices to elicit high levels of student engagement and self-directed learning, and achieve outputs more like those associated with architectural education. An extensive report by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Boyer and Mitgang, 1996) was conducted on behalf of the five organizations regulating the education and practice of architecture in the USA. That report described very high levels of student learning and engagement and recommended that the methods used to teach architecture be transferred for use in more fields. The current study provides additional understanding of this topic, identifying the various concepts that architecture students hold about knowledge and design as well as how these conceptualizations are both similar and different to engineering students’ conceptualizations. An outcome of this study is increased understanding about aspects of the learning experience and the learning environment that capture students’ attention and elicit their engagement. With this knowledge, educators can do more to encourage reflection, exploration, and self-directed learning among students.

This is a work in progress, and the first phase has been a pilot study. This paper reports results of the pilot as well as the context, rationale, and design of the overall study. The pilot was the first step in a study seeking to provide new understandings: (1) spanning multiple professions; (2) identifying the various concepts that architecture and engineering students hold about the generation of new designs; and (3) describing how these conceptualizations compare within and between fields. The second phase will use phenomenographic methodologies to identify qualitatively different ways engineering and architecture students conceptualize knowledge and design. To date, the study has been designed and has gained approval to proceed from our ethics review board. Three pilot interviews have been conducted and these have been used to adjust the research design and widen the parameters for the sample group. The research team secured ethics approval for the proposed changes. This paper describes the overall design of the study and what was learned from the pilot interviews.