Exploring students' concepts of success in a first-year engineering course using fuzzy cognitive maps

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ed.D.
Date created
This thesis presents iterative action research that was situated in my practice as a Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering at Simon Fraser University. Motivated by a puzzlement that arose with regards to an expectation gap between faculty and students, I created and embedded an exercise in one of my first-year engineering courses, where students explored their concepts of success using fuzzy cognitive maps (FCMs). The research captured in this thesis started in 2016 with a pilot study, and it culminated in two full studies: one in 2017 and one in 2018. The foundation for this work is Schön's reflective practitioner, systems theory/thinking, Checkland's Soft Systems Methodology, and Kosko's FCMs. For the two full studies, students created their FCMs in small groups, resulting in 44 group FCMs. Students also had the opportunity to personalize their FCM resulting in over 300 FCMs. These FCMs are analyzed and presented using various indices. In addition, to ensure the voices of students were captured throughout the process, I also conducted follow-up surveys and interviews. For most students, the personalized FCMs were not sufficiently different from their group FCM. The majority of ideas captured in the FCM were related to longer-term concepts, with few instances of immediate concepts related to school. A concept that appeared frequently and one that was highly connected was the concept of happiness. In addition to various indices associated with the FCMs, this thesis also uses other forms visualizations, such as chord diagrams and heatmaps, to visualize and understand the FCMs. Several areas of future work are suggested to extend this work in both the short-term and long-term. While my initial focus was to better understand my students, one of the outcomes of conducting this research was a reflective loop that allowed me to better understand myself. In order to frame and reframe this research required a study of self, which I present throughout this thesis. My intent with this document is to capture the messiness of practice-based research and push back against technical rationality.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Bullock, Shawn
Thesis advisor: Ling, Michael
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