Student Justifications in Engineering Design Descriptions: Examining Authority and Legitimation

Karl G. Jung, Justin McFadden
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The process of design is a key component of engineering that relies heavily on student collaboration and language use. One important aspect of design is the need for designers to develop solutions capable of solving specific engineering problems. Engineers enact recognizable epistemic practices and often rely on data as a means for justifying their designed solutions. Indeed, when striving to meet a specific client‘s requests, engineers must make claims that rely on collected data as a means for justifying their design decision. This study examined how two groups of elementary students engaged with this specific practice (i.e., using data to support design decisions) by investigating the justifications for their espoused design decisions during an engineering design challenge. Using discourse analysis methods, this ethnographic microanalysis examined the ways in which students legitimized their design choices, in addition to investigating how those justifications were or were not validated by the classroom teacher. Findings indicated students used either their personal authority, or the data and expert authority it provided to support their engineering design decisions. Additionally, the classroom teacher mostly validated student justifications constructed using applicable sources of data while providing few opportunities for students to enact their personal authority. Findings highlight the need for instruction that purposefully connects students‘ personal authority with specific aspects of the design problem space so students can feel empowered to pursue and test the validity of their initial design ideas using applicable data.

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Jung, K.G. & McFadden, J. (2018). Student justifications in engineering design descriptions: Examining authority and legitimation. International Journal of Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology (IJEMST), 6(4), 398-423. DOI:10.18404/ijemst.440342


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