Centre for Research in Engineering and Materials Education

Research Themes

Academic inclusion

The traditional view to inclusive education is to focus on dismantling barriers for diverse groups of learners. However, some barriers for learning are not exclusively defined by learner diversity. They are more intrinsically related to the subject itself, through complexity of concepts, or practices that are not immediately apparent to non-experts. In summary, expertise itself can be a source of exclusion for non-experts and learners. Evidence shows that subject-specific barriers and ways of thinking in a subject discipline disproportionally affect learners from minoritised groups. Fortunately, evidence also shows that actions focusing on decoding aspects of the subject to learners, also disproportionally benefit students from minoritised groups.

"Academic inclusion", as coined by Cotter, De Wilde, Kocnevaite and Cavalli, is a way of thinking about inclusive education whereby the focus expands from learner diversity to include subject-specific pedagogies that dismantle barriers to learner success. A range of approaches are possible in academic inclusion. These include unpacking/decoding:

  • subject language (e.g. “STEM-glish”)

  • subject thinking and ways of practicing in the subject (e.g. “scientific thinking” and “engineering judgement”)

  • subject-specific and professional skills

  • subject-specific staff development for effective inclusive education and pedagogical research

Professional skills for engineers

Engineers need a range of professional skills to work successfully in the current industrial context and in the future. Communication and teamwork skills are the basics of any engineer, but practical skills, creativity, complex problem solving and critical thinking skills also need developing. Not only these, but also professional behaviours such as ethics, environmental awareness and sustainability are critical for employers. Employers also face a struggle with up-skilling or re-skilling workers due to increasing digitalisation, so a passion for lifelong learning is essential. It is therefore the role of a university to provide student engineers with the opportunities to develop these skills within their courses and graduate university with work-ready skills. Our current research focusses on developing professional engineering skills as part of the engineering degree.

Experiential learning 

Experiential Learning is a process that involves “learning by doing” and having students reflect on the work. Fundamentally, the principle is based on the observation that students learn best from their own experiences. Our current research in this area focuses on group work, where peer assessment and self-reflection are used in combination for evaluation. Peer feedback can be identified as an essential component of experiential learning that is directly linked with classroom-, team- and problem- based organization instructional methods.

Team based dynamics

Within teamwork, there are a variety of elements that are challenging for students, such as, managing expectations and group dynamics, and these can lead to a breakdown in communication. Teamwork approaches that consider diversity and promote equitable participation by all students, enhance the culture of the learning environment and are more likely to lead to productive group interactions. Our current research in this area focuses on the implicit and explicit support student receive to contribute to an effective team dynamic.

Assessment and feedback in STEM subjects

Assessment and feedback are central to the development of students in STEM areas, and it is used to understand how students learn and progress through the acquisition of knowledge and skills as well as supporting students to improve through feedback. In STEM, the more effective approaches are assessment strategies that promote learning by doing and require students to use competences, knowledge and skills required in professional life. This is also known as authentic assessment, and it is the focus of our research in this area. By identifying assessment design criteria that can provide authentic experiences to students, we aim to effectively develop frameworks for the use of these strategies in STEM classrooms. In the area of feedback, our research focus is on identifying effective approaches for flipping the feedback process from the past to the future aiming to maximise opportunities for personal growth, development and application of new knowledge and skills.