Exploring emerging engineering identities : The potential of possible selves

Smit, Renee and Agrawal, Ashish and Ashwin, Paul and Goldschneider, Benjamin (2022) Exploring emerging engineering identities : The potential of possible selves. In: 33rd Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference (AAEE 2022) : Future of Engineering Education. Australasian Association for Engineering Education, AUS. ISBN 9781925627756

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CONTEXT The theory of "possible selves", first proposed by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius (1987), has been used in higher education as a way to understand how an imagined future impact on present behaviour. When future selves are embodied and personalised in identity, they have the potential to become powerful motivations for behaviour. While the concept has been widely used in higher education research, little work has been done in engineering education. PURPOSE There is growing interest in engineering education in the ways in which engineering identity is developed. However, sound theoretical and methodological approaches to researching identity formation are lacking in published research. In this paper we explore the potential of the lens of possible selves as an analytical tool for understanding the development of an emerging engineering identity. METHODOLOGY The paper draws on data collected from an international longitudinal study at six universities in three countries (UK, South Africa and the USA) over a period of four years. Semi-structured interviews, covering a range of topics, were conducted annually with chemical engineering students at each of the institutions, transcribed and initially coded into broad sets of categories, using qualitative software. For the work described in this paper, we returned to full transcripts to benefit from the longitudinal nature of the study. A qualitative analysis of themes linked to the theory of possible selves was conducted and links between themes were developed. OUTCOMES The conceptual framework of possible selves allows researchers to explore the varied ways in which engineering students clarify conceptualisation of their future professional roles. In addition, the theory enables consideration of a temporaI aspect of identity development: the notion of a welldeveloped future self has the potential to impact on current behaviour and make sense of the past. CONCLUSIONS Engineering education is about more than the transfer and acquisition of specialised knowledge and skills. In this study the theory of possible selves is applied to gain insight into chemical engineering students' development of an identity as an engineer over the course of their academic careers. We consider a recommendation concerning the potential impact of including intentional opportunities in the curriculum for students to reflect on aspirations for a future as an engineer, in addition to the technical knowledge and skills they gain.

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24 May 2024 14:10
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16 Jun 2024 23:35