Date of Award

Spring 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Education

First Advisor

Senay Purzer

Second Advisor

Johannes Strobel

Committee Chair

Senay Purzer

Committee Co-Chair

Johannes Strobel

Committee Member 1

Robin Adams

Committee Member 2

Morgan Hynes


People from all backgrounds engage with technology in their everyday lives. There is, however, a gap in the public's understanding of technology and limited research on how engineers and non-engineers approach technological challenges. Prior studies have focused on the public's understanding of technology but limited research has been conducted on how people deal with technological challenges as part of their everyday lives. Studying how individuals with non-STEM backgrounds engage with technology will contribute a more comprehensive understanding of strategies for closing the technological literacy gap. Taking into account that technology developments rapidly occur, lifelong learning skills are another critical dimension of technological competency. ^ The purpose of this study is to identify how adults with STEM (specifically engineering) and non-STEM backgrounds with varying levels of lifelong learning approach technological challenges in their everyday lives. ^ A sequential mixed methods design using nested, purposeful sampling was performed. The quantitative strand included cluster analysis for outlier identification. The qualitative strand included thematic analysis. Four groups of participants were formed: Engineers with lower (LLE) and higher (HLE) levels of lifelong learning and non-STEM participants with lower (LLnE) and higher (HLnE) levels of lifelong learning. Twelve outliers —three in each group— were selected for the qualitative strand. Two semi-structured interviews were conducted on participants' past and recent experiences with technology and challenges they faced during such interactions. ^ Three dimensions of approaching technology (attitudes, behaviors, and conceptions) emerged from the analysis. Those with broader conceptions of technology were more active users of technology and were emotionally neutral towards the challenge. Conversely, those who had narrower conceptions of technology were passive users of technology and had strong positive and negative emotions towards the challenge. The analyses resulted in five different approaches to technological challenges: disengagement, scaffolding, transitioning, emotional engagement, and ownership. In particular, background shaped conceptions about technology, engagement, and attitudes towards the challenge. This inclusive understanding informs future research and practice about new strategies for improving technology education for all citizens, aligned with the 21st century skills framework.