Engineering education research

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Engineering education research (EER) is the field of inquiry that creates knowledge which aims to define, inform, and improve the education of engineers. It achieves this through research on topics such as: epistemology, policy, assessment, pedagogy, diversity, amongst others, as they pertain to engineering.[1]

History and background[edit]

Engineering education research gained visibility during the 1980s, although the formal education of engineers in the United States traces back to as early as 1802, with the establishment of the United States Military Academy at West Point for the purpose of training the U.S. Army's corps of engineers.[2][3] The Rensselaer School (now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) was founded in 1824 and conferred degrees in civil engineering upon four students in 1835.[4]

Spurred by concerns of national competitiveness and the insufficient number of graduating engineers[5] the Neal Report called for research to improve teaching and learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.[6]

Similar to other disciplines, the 1990s brought a focus on the scholarship of teaching as demonstrated by the 1995 NRC Report,[7] "Engineering education: Designing an adaptive system", influenced by Ernst Boyer.[8] This focus was primarily motivated by the need to improve the quality of engineers produced by universities in the US. Additionally, 1993 marked the relaunch of the Journal of Engineering Education, which served as a clearinghouse for scholarly research.[9]

As concerns regarding globalization and the need for innovation increased during the late 1990s and 2000s, engineering education research was influenced by calls of reform to produce the quantity and diversity of engineers needed to address global problems.[9]

Continuing the development of the field, centers for engineering education research emerged in the early 2000s. The NAE formed a Committee on Engineering Education (CEE) in 1999, NAE’s Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education (CASEE) was established in 2002 and the Center for the Advancement of Engineering in 2003.[9]

During the mid-2000s, dedicated funding, specialized publications, centers for research, academic preparation and conferences which connected the distributed community supplied the infrastructure necessary for the burgeoning field of research.[9]

Influential Reports on the History of Engineering Education

  1. Mann, C. (1918). Study of Engineering Education
  2. Wickenden Report: Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education. (1930). "Report of the Investigation of Engineering Education 1923-1929." Pittsburgh, PA.
  3. L.E. 1995. Report of the ASEE Committee on Evaluation of Engineering Education. Washington, DC: American Society of Engineering Education.
  4. “Green Report”. 1995. Engineering education for a changing world. Washington, DC: American Society for Engineering Education. A report prepared by Engineering Deans Council and Corporate Roundtable.

Core research areas[edit]

The 2006 Report of the Steering Committee of the National Engineering Education Research Colloquies outlined the 5 key topic areas of engineering education research as follows:[10]

  1. Engineering Epistemologies: Research on what constitutes engineering thinking and knowledge within social contexts now and into the future
  2. Engineering Learning Mechanisms: Research on engineering learners’ developing knowledge and competencies in context.
  3. Engineering Learning Systems: Research on the instructional culture, institutional infrastructure, and epistemology of engineering educators.
  4. Engineering Diversity and Inclusiveness: Research on how diverse human talents contribute solutions to the social and global challenges and relevance of our [the engineering] profession.
  5. Engineering Assessment: Research on, and the development of, assessment methods, instruments, and metrics to inform engineering education practice and learning.

Other research areas[edit]


According to Borrego and Bernhard,[11] international collaborations are developing in an effort to create global competencies in engineering students. Engineering global competency is the possession of "the knowledge, ability, and predisposition to work effectively with people who define and solve problems differently than they do." [12] Educational programs that emphasize global engineering competencies research the development and assessment of global competency within the engineering practice.[13][14]

Examples of programs in global engineering competency include:

  • The Global Engineering Program at Purdue University
  • Erasmus mundus (student centric global program)[15]

R&D departments in transnational companies also contribute to international educational research.

Global engineering cultures[edit]

In 2008, a project titled "The Engineering Cultures Multimedia Project" was approved by the NSF. It was done by combine effort of "Virginia Tech and Colorado School of Mines to produce CD-based modules exploring how what counts as an engineer and engineering knowledge varies from country to country". The main goal of this project was "To develop, disseminate, and assess learning experiences that will help students to identify, understand, and value perspectives other than their own."[16]

Pre-college engineering education[edit]

Studies indicate that engineers will be better prepared for rigorous study in the engineering sciences if exposed to engineering concepts in the years prior to university study. The following resources have been listed to provide primary- and secondary-level educators with information and online programs that will aide them in bringing engineering material to their classrooms.


“Rigorous” research in engineering education is defined as adherence to the National Research Council’s six guiding principles for scientific inquiry.[17] The six guiding principles for scientific inquiry are:[18]

  1. Pose significant questions that can be investigated empirically.
  2. Link research to relevant theory.
  3. Use methods that permit direct investigation of the question.
  4. Provide explicit, coherent chain of reasoning.
  5. Replicate and generalize across studies.
  6. Disclose research to encourage professional scrutiny and critique.

Connection to practice[edit]

Engineering education research is conducted based on the demands and patterns of engineering in industry, policy, and education. Globally, emphasis of research focuses on educational application. Research into industry and practice have yet to gain greater attention.[19]



In the United States, there has been a greater push for development of formal policy for educating engineers. In 1918, the Mann Report noted an imminent lack of qualified engineers that could rapidly enter the workforce. There should be more hands-on experience, engineering educators should have practical work experience, and teaching should be more prominent even though research is also important. In 1955, the Grinter report specifically outlined undergraduate and graduate level engineering studies. Since then, some of these suggestions, including the senior capstone design course, have been implemented in public and private engineering institutions.

Engineering education policy is externally driven to some degree. ABET accreditation has incorporated industrial demands as part of the accreditation process. ABET EC 2000 emphasizes both technical (design, problem solving) and professional skills (teamwork, communication, ethical/global thinking).

P-12 Educational Standards:

National policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have influenced the recruitment and retention of future engineers.

In April 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards were released as the science standards for K-12 science education in the United States to replace the National Science Education Standards. These include engineering-based standards embedded within the science standards. The National Assessment Governing Board has created a Technology and Literacy Framework for the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress. This will be a pilot test and may turn into a permanent fixture of future testing.


There is a disconnect between engineering education research findings and implementation of the findings into the classroom. Research findings are published in a variety of journals primarily read by other researchers, not P-12 teachers or university faculty outside of the Education field. This breakdown of transfer between research and practice prevents the desired outcomes at the heart of the research[20][11][19]

There have been proposals to connect Engineering Education practice and Engineering Education research. A cyclical model of transfer between research and practice has been proposed by Jesiek et al. (2010) and Borrego & Bernhard (2011). This model allows research and practice to continuously influence and develop one another.

Organizations and publications[edit]

There are several professional organizations devoted to engineering education, including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nazempour, Arshan (2015). "Assessments of Ultra-Low-Cost Venturi Nozzle in Undergraduate Engineering Classes". American Society For Engineering Education. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  2. ^ Noble, D. F. (1979). America by design: Science, technology, and the rise of corporate capitalism.
  3. ^ Reynolds, Terry S. (1992). "The Education of Engineers in America Before the Morrill Act of 1862," History of Education Quarterly, 32 (Winter): 459-82.
  4. ^ Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education. (1930). "Report of the Investigation of Engineering Education 1923-1929." Pittsburgh, PA.
  5. ^ A Nation at Risk (1983)
  6. ^ Neal Report (1986)
  7. ^ National Research Council Board on Engineering Education. 1995. Engineering education: Designing an adaptive system. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  8. ^ Boyer, E.L. 1990. Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching National Academies Press.
  9. ^ a b c d Brent K. Jesiek; Lynita K. Newswander & Maura Borrego (2009). "Engineering education research: discipline, community, or field?". Journal of Engineering Education. 98 (1): 39–52. doi:10.1002/j.2168-9830.2009.tb01004.x.
  10. ^ Colloquies. (2006). The Research Agenda for the New Discipline of Engineering Education. Journal of Engineering Education (October), 259-261.
  11. ^ a b Borrego, M., & Bernhard, J. (2011) "The emergence of engineering education research as an internationally connected field of inquiry." Journal of Engineering Education. 100 (1): 14–47.
  12. ^ Downey et al., "The Globally Competent Engineer: Working Effectively with People Who Define Problems Differently," Journal of Engineering Education, 2006.
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ Borrego, M. (2007). "Conceptual difficulties experienced by trained engineers learning educational research methods." Journal of Engineering Education. 96(2): 91.
  18. ^ Shavelson, R., and L. Towne, Scientific Research in Education, Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2002. Scientific Research in Education, Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2002.
  19. ^ a b Jesiek, B. K., Borrego, M., & Beddoes, K. (2010) "Advancing global capacity for engineering education research (AGCEER): relating research to practice, policy, and industry." Journal of Engineering Education. 99 (2): 107-119.
  20. ^ American Society for Engineering Education, 2009