Developing Reflective Engineers: Including work practice in the curriculum
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This thesis provides a pedagogical model for students' development as reflective practitioners through mandatory work practice in higher education. The research is a single case study connected to the Reflective Practice course in the Master in Systems Engineering program where work practice is a mandatory part of the curriculum. The master's program is provided by the Faculty of Technology at Buskerud University College (Kongsberg, Norway) An educational program prepares professionals for their work life in the best possible way. It should provide a substantial theoretical foundation, but also focus on content and work forms that support the students' development as professionals. The research is based on the assumption that implementing work practice as part of the curriculum will improve the students' learning outcomes and contribute to their development as reflective practitioners. Further, this development process may be strengthened by a "Reflective activity" on campus, which facilitates reflection processes and emphasizes use of the students' work experiences as objects of reflections. The aim with the research has been to provide a research based foundation for how an educational program could strengthen engineering students' development as reflective practitioners through mandatory work practices. An educational model like this provides the students with two main learning arenas: campus and the workplace. The "Reflective activity" is dependent on the students' learning in practice and aims to facilitate reflection processes to develop the students' reflective skills, and to emphasize activities that encourage the students to use their own work experience in their reflections. In the pedagogical model, the "Reflective activity" and "Learning in practice" constitute an "Extended work practice." The main research question to be answered in this thesis is How is it, that mandatory work practices in engineering education strengthen the students' development as reflective practitioners? Based on the theoretical discussion, and the pedagogical model developed, the following three sub research questions were developed, 1. How do the students learn and develop through their work practices? 2. How do the students learn and develop through the reflective activity? 3. What are the students' learning outcomes from the reflective activity? It is argued that analyzing these questions will together answer the main research question. The research was done as a single case study where the Reflective Practice course served as the case with the Master in Systems Engineering program as its context. I was member of the project team that developed the master's program and later on in a smaller team within the project that developed the Reflective Practice course. The data sources used for the research are interviews with students, course documentations, and the students' reflection notes. The analysis was done by a grounded theory approach and with an abductive strategy. The theoretical foundation, the research questions, and the categorization of the data were developed by going back and forth between the data sources and the theoretical basis. It will be argued that the "Reflective activity" contributes to the strengthening of the students' development as reflective practitioner through:Facilitation of a community of reflective studentsFacilitation of collective reflectionsFacilitation of use of the students' own experiences in the object of reflectionFurther, that the students learn and develop at work through collective reflections in communities of practice. The "Reflective activity" reflects the way the students learn and develop at work through facilitation of collective reflections in a community of reflective students. The work practice provides the students with work experiences that are used as objects of reflections in the facilitated reflection processes. The collective reflections make the students reflect back on their own work practices and work conditions. The "Extended work practice" contributes thereby to the strengthening of the students' development as reflective practitioners.