Increasing Engineering Knowledge Through a Photo-Journal Project

Article Review 5 – Lori Sowa

Purdue University is one of the few schools in the country with a PhD-granting School of Engineering Education, with faculty research focusing on graduate, undergraduate, and P-12 engineering education.   The Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE) was established in 2006 at Purdue, in part to promote engineering learning in the elementary classroom.   Each summer, INSPIRE hosts engineering academies for local elementary teachers.

Duncan et al. (2011) used Bloom’s revised taxonomy as a theoretical framework to evaluate teachers’ ability to recognize and understand engineering in the world around them through a photo-journal project.   Cameras were sent to elementary teacher participants prior to the start of the summer INSPIRE academy with instructions to take ten photographs related to engineering. For each photograph, teachers were instructed to record the date, time, and location, and to explain how each scene related to engineering.   Then, after the first of a five day workshop, the teachers were given further instructions to take ten additional photographs and to record the same information.   The additional ten photographs/journal entries were to be completed by the end of the workshop.

The photographs and associated journal entries were collected and categorized as either pre- or post- workshop.   Each journal entry was coded using Bloom’s revised taxonomy to determine the cognitive level of the entry.   Since Bloom’s taxonomy is hierarchical, the levels were given a numeric indicator, with 1 being “Remember” and 6 being “Create”.   Due to the nature of the exercise, none of the journal entries showed evidence of “Create”, so the highest level achieved was “Evaluate”. The authors used statistical methods to determine whether the teachers demonstrated an increase in cognitive level post-workshop, which they did (equivalent to one cognitive level).

This study was rigorous and well-conducted.   Extensive measures were taken to establish inter-rater reliability, including preliminary analysis of journal entries that would not be included in the study, refinement of methods, and then analysis on the study group (K-fourth grade teachers).   Limitations noted by the authors included: small sample size (n=40) from one geographic area; the timeframe for the photographs was not actually pre- and post-workshop, but rather pre- and during- the workshop; and using ordinal values assigned to Bloom’s taxonomy for analysis typical of Likert-type scales was a novel, untested approach.   In addition, the retention of this knowledge of engineering, and whether the understanding transfers to students in the teachers’ classrooms, has not been studied.

The underlying assumption in the hierarchical nature of Bloom’s taxonomy is that higher level equals better learning, perhaps since learning through this model is considered cumulative.   I find the assigning of numerical values to artifacts coded for each cognitive level to be a useful technique that could be applied to many situations to facilitate quantitative analysis of the data.   I’m curious to dig into this technique and see if and how other researchers are using it, as the authors state it is a novel approach.

I like the integration of journal-ling as a learning activity because it brings the important writing aspect into a STEM activity.   The learning objective targeted by this activity was to “convey a broad perspective of the nature and practice of engineering”.   This type of activity could easily be facilitated (and perhaps enhanced) in an online environment through posting to a blog.   Looking forward to my Engineering for Educators course, this activity could be adapted to help achieve my third learning objective (to understand the engineer’s role in society, and inspire a desire in students to use engineering to solve problems that matter to people).

This article was valuable to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a reminder that I need to brush up and expand on my readily-available statistics knowledge.   I’ve taken a number of statistics courses throughout the years, but none recently and it shows as I try to follow along with the statistical methods used in this and other recently reviewed papers.   Google was my link to definitions and explanations.

This article provides insight into the effectiveness of a summer academy on increasing teachers’ ability to recognize and understand engineering in the world around us – an important step in preparation of teachers who will teach or even just discuss engineering in their classrooms.   However, it is important to bear in mind the teachers in this study were provided a substantial amount of professional development centered on engineering (Monday through Friday, 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM with additional homework including reading and assignments).   In Secondary Level Engineering Professional Development: Content, Pedagogy, and Challenges, Daugherty and Custer (2012) describe a number of barriers to successful implementation of engineering in K12 classrooms, including: teachers’ lack of mathematical skills needed to implement engineering activities, lack of background in engineering to maintain fidelity of the curriculum, the amount of time required for lesson planning, student mathematical background and motivation, resources, and institutional barriers.     Certainly these barriers are not insurmountable in all cases, but they must be considered and point to the multifaceted and nontrivial nature of this issue.

Daugherty, J. L., & Custer, R. L. (2012). Secondary level engineering professional development: Content, pedagogy, and challenges. International journal of technology and design education, 22(1), 51-64.
Duncan, D., Diefes-Dux, H., & Gentry, M. (2011). Professional Development Through Engineering Academies: An Examination of Elementary Teachers’ Recognition and Understanding of Engineering. Journal Of Engineering Education, 100(3), 520-539.

19 thoughts on “Increasing Engineering Knowledge Through a Photo-Journal Project

  1. Owen

    Hi Lori,
    I like your thought to use this photo journaling exercise. I can imagine the benefits among peers to seeing one another’s posts – and breadth of diversity here is key. It should, as you say, drive toward your learning objective of understanding the engineers role in society.
    It will be interesting to see how this study feeds into your final learning unit design.
    Your comments on statistics resonated with me. I’ve had a few stats courses over the years, but my retention remains low. I generally have to nearly relearn when evaluating research.
    Nice work and good selection choice for an article.

  2. jenny

    I will need to read this article as well. I like the idea of photo-journaling for documenting experiments that are conducted by the students at home. It seems like an excellent way of having students record their observations. I also agree that the journal part is a good way for teachers to integrate more writing into science curriculum, which is often hard to do.

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