Studying smartness in engineering culture: An interdisciplinary dialogue Conference

Dringenberg, E, Secules, S, Kramer, A. (2019). Studying smartness in engineering culture: An interdisciplinary dialogue .

cited authors

  • Dringenberg, E; Secules, S; Kramer, A


  • This theory paper contributes to the study of smartness in engineering culture from different disciplinary perspectives. We are interested in the construct of smartness, which is a powerful, yet implicit, driver of students' experience in engineering education. Smartness in engineering culture can be linked to both the broad narratives and norms that overarch engineering at a societal level (e.g., engineers are smart) as well as the more specific, individual beliefs that individual students hold about the nature of intelligence (e.g., fixed vs. growth mindset). However, the construct of smartness at these different levels is operationalized differently and is informed by theory from different disciplinary fields such as psychology and anthropology. Studying a complex social construct, such as smartness, from a single disciplinary frame is common; each frame has its advantages and limitations. We use this paper to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue and to motivate the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to studying smartness and its role in the culture of undergraduate engineering education. We ground our dialogue in the scholarly literature from psychology and anthropology, and leverage two co-authors' prior work in each of these research frames respectively. From these vantage points, we discuss our own observations of the affordances and limitations of the single disciplinary perspectives. We then motivate and discuss the features of an interdisciplinary research agenda, including challenges associated with blending the assumptions and epistemologies of the two different disciplinary frames. We offer an idea of leveraging the unifying construct of beliefs as a way to facilitate interdisciplinary research on the complex construct of smartness. Theoretical implications of interdisciplinary research in this vein include new approaches to other educational constructs that span both individual mental and collective social dimensions. We note that the interdisciplinary study of smartness in engineering culture also has practical implications, such as for inclusive classroom design.

publication date

  • June 15, 2019