An examination of factors of engineering epistemology development in electrical and computer engineering students

Askia Hill, Purdue University


The National Academy of Engineers’ Engineer of 2020 initiative recommended changing the way engineering students are educated in order to produce engineers that can contribute to a rapidly changing world. In response, the Engineering Education Research Colloquies with support from the National Science Foundation released a research agenda to frame the direction of addressing challenges stated in the Engineering of 2020 initiative. One of the research areas described in this agenda that has received little attention in recent publications is engineering epistemology, defined as the views and beliefs an individual has about the nature of engineering knowledge in different contexts. This is particularly troubling since advanced epistemological views have been shown to have a positive effect on academic performance and an individual’s ability to solve the kinds of ill-structured problems engineers frequently encounter in industry. While previous research has established the epistemological development patterns for engineering students, there has been little focus on what factors influence this development. Because of the importance of understanding a student’s epistemological development, this research proposes to identify such factors through a cross-sectional research design that focuses on the epistemological development of electrical and computer engineering students. The proposed framework of this cross-sectional design is a modified version of Muis et al. ‘sTheory of Integrated Domains in Epistemology (TIDE), which encapsulates epistemological beliefs and their development. In addition to the sociocultural, academic, and instructional contexts from the original version of the TIDE framework, an industrial context was also included in order to account for potential influences from internships and cooperative education rotations. Electrical and computer engineering students at a large Midwestern university generated epistemological profiles by completing a set of inventories to represent the various components of the TIDE framework. A background survey asked various questions that corresponded to the different contexts. Participants also completed Felder and Silverman’s Index of Learning Styles in order to determine type and degree of their learning preferences. The complexity of the participants’ epistemological beliefs was measured by Moore’s Learning Environment Preference inventory. The analysis found evidence that individual differences from the sociocultural (gender, whether or not a participant was a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and neighborhood in which they grew up), academic (major, GPA), and instructional (active/reflexive learning preference and sensing/intuitive learning preference) contexts may have some form of influence of ECE student’s epistemological beliefs. This research contributes to the literature by providing insight into the epistemological development of two specific engineering majors. The study also introduced a new context for the TIDE framework in which epistemological beliefs can develop. Additionally, the study found evidence that the individual differences with respect to learning preferences and U.S. citizenship may affect epistemological development.




Jesiek, Purdue University.

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