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Engaged in a seamless blend

A study on how academic staff approach connections to professional practice and research in the engineering curriculum

Time: Fri 2019-12-06 13.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, (English)

Subject area: Technology and Learning

Doctoral student: Marie Magnell , Lärande, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, HEOS

Opponent: Professor Jussi Välimaa, University of Jyväskylä

Supervisor: Professor Lars Geschwind, Lärande; Professor Anette Kolmos, Aalborg University

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The connection between research and teaching is one of the main attributes of higher education. Aside from this link, the relation between higher education and the world of work is another prevailing facet, particularly in education for the professions. In engineering education, both aspects – connections to research and professional practice – have been under continuing discussion regarding the extent to which these aspects should be included in the curriculum. This thesis focuses on this discussion; the aim is to explore how academic staff approach connections to professional practice and research in the engineering curriculum. A brief historical overview is displayed to present the background regarding the relation to professional practice and research in engineering education. The conceptual framework is based on the literature on curricula, teaching and learning regimes, connections to professional practice, connections to research, and academic drift. Methodologically, the work builds on an interpretive approach, using case studies and a discourse analysis as the primary methodologies. The results reveal three overarching discourses and each discourse has a distinct relation to the inclusion of professional practice and research in the curriculum. Here, the functions of these discourses are primarily preserving the characteristics of each programme and securing the boundaries of each programme from the different types of influences threatening these characteristics. Different strategies for including connections to professional practice, and for dual coupling of connections to research and professional practice, with the aim of motivating students and preparing them for the engineering profession, were identified. The findings show that links to research can be included in the curriculum while keeping the connections to professional practice in place, hence forming a seamless blend. Thus, the facet of academic drift that is assumed to be created by the inclusion of research links and leading to a loss of connections to professional practice was questioned, and it was argued that research-based activities in the curriculum contribute to the formation of professional knowledge. On the basis of the identified discourses and strategies, it was concluded that neither connections to professional practice nor connections to research can be a case of a one-size-fits-all approach; instead, each discourse requires local adjustments when implementing these connections in the curriculum. The results indicate that in the future, the discussion should focus on how to best combine the two types of connections because both are important aspects in the formation of professional knowledge.