Academic problem-solving and students’ identities as engineers

Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, Elliot P. Douglas, Nathan J. McNeill, David J. Therriault, Christine S. Lee, Zaria Malcolm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Socially constructed identities and language practices influence the ways students perceive themselves as learners, problem solvers, and future professionals. While research has been conducted on individuals’ identity as engineers, less has been written about how the language used during engineering problem solving influences students’ perceptions and their construction of identities as learners and future engineers. This study investigated engineering students’ identities as reflected in their use of language and discourses while engaged in an engineering problem solving activity. We conducted interviews with eight engineering students at a large southeastern university about their approaches to open and closed-ended materials engineering problems. A modification of Gee’s analysis of language-in-use was used to analyze the interviews. We found that pedagogical and engineering problem solving uses of language were the most common. Participants were more likely to perceive themselves as students highlighting the practices, expectations, and language associated with being a student rather than as emerging engineers whose practices are affected by conditions of professional practice. We suggest that problem solving in an academic setting may not encourage students to consider alternative discourses related to industry, professionalism, or creativity; and, consequently, fail to promote connections to social worlds beyond the classroom. By learning about the ways in which language in particular settings produces identities and shapes problem solving practices, educators and engineering professionals can gain deeper understanding of how language shapes the ways students describe themselves as problem-solvers and make decisions about procedures and techniques to solve engineering problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5
Pages (from-to)456-478
Number of pages23
JournalQualitative Report
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 12 2017


  • Engineering Students
  • Identity
  • Language-In-Use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education


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