New article published! Implementing PBL and comparing research methods.

My article, Comparing grounded theory and phenomenology as methods to understand lived experience of engineering educators implementing Problem-Based Learning, was just published by the European Journal of Engineering Education!

The abstract identifies the topic and its relevance to engineering education:

Getting lecturers/professors to implement pedagogical innovations is a central focus of university managers/administrators today. Convincing teachers to change is notoriously hard. This research project investigated the shift in pedagogical approach among a small group of faculty as they replaced traditional lecture-based methods with Problem-Based Learning projects. Interviews were conducted with eight of the most active drivers of this change, around the research question: What was it like to be part of a learning group focused on tangible change toward student-centered learning? Objectives of this study were: (1) to understand how pedagogical changed happened in an electrical engineering programme at a post-secondary institution in Ireland; (2) to analyse data using two different research methods to distill as much meaning as possible; (3) to describe the process, results, and findings achieved using each method; and (4) to compare and contrast the methods, asking: To what extents do the research methods of grounded theory and phenomenology fit our data and yield relevant and useful findings? Results of this mixed-methods approach show that fun, enjoyment, camaraderie, and a sense of ownership of the change at the ground level were essential to driving transformation. With regard to analysing this specific dataset, we found grounded theory to produce more helpful outcomes (including a graphic model of change). Because interviews had been conducted two years after the events under analysis, the interview comments were inherently reflective and, as it turns out, not as conducive to phenomenological methodologies which seek to understand raw, pre-reflective experience. This report should be of particular use to (a) teachers and administrators strategizing change and (b) engineering education researchers assessing the applicability of various methods.

I spearheaded the project but had assistance from Gavin Duffy in lining up interviews and conducting phenomenological analysis and enjoyed supervisory support from Brian Bowe.

You can access a pre-print here: Comparing grounded theory and phenomenology as methods to understand lived experience of engineering educators implementing Problem-Based Learning. I tried very hard to purchase an upgrade to “Gold” access so I could post the final published version online, and as a SEFI member, I am supposed to get a discount on this service from the publisher. Unfortunately, Taylor and Francis haven’t sorted out how to organize the discount yet, so I’m only able to post the text version I submitted to EJEE for peer review. The published version is available through most university libraries (using DOI: 0.1080/03043797.2019.1607826). However, if you’re interested in citing the published version but you lack access to it, please contact me. I am allowed to share the published version with a few dozen people, and T&F provided me a link for doing that.

This was a complex study and took quite a few years to bring to publication. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported this project–most especially my coauthors and the folks I interviewed at TU Dublin. I’d also like to thank the funders. First, data collection and transcription (conducted in 2012 and 2013) were supported by a grant provided by the Fulbright Commission in Ireland along with Dublin Institute of Technology. Second, data analyses were supported by a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) fellowship from the European Union (in 2014-2016) via Call identifier: FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IIF, Project 629388, Project acronym: REESP, Project title: Re-Engineering Europe’s STEM Pipeline. Finally, work to get this published with its unique slant of using two different methods and comparing the outcomes (conducted in 2018 and 2019) was supported via a second MSCA fellowship, Call identifier: H2020-MSCA-IF-2016, Project 747069, Project acronym: DesignEng, Project title: Designing Engineers: Harnessing the Power of Design Projects to Spur Cognitive and Epistemological Development of STEM Students.

This information can help if you want to cite the article:

Shannon Chance, Gavin Duffy & Brian Bowe (2019): Comparing grounded theory and phenomenology as methods to understand lived experience of engineering educators implementing problem-based learning, European Journal of Engineering Education, DOI: 0.1080/03043797.2019.1607826


    1. I surely did! With such a small sample (eight educators) neither the phenomenological study nor the grounded theory study was terribly significant on its own—but by comparing them I think I was able to create something of value after all!



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