Trajectories of Knowledge and Action in Becoming an Engineering

Andrew Jocuns, Reed Stevens

University of Washington, USA

WS136: Trajectories of learning in/across contexts of learning

In this paper we illustrate how the notion of a trajectory of learning applies to both senses of discourse at a micro, or small d micro-interactional level, and at a larger orders of discourse, or big D, level. We apply these notions to interactions among engineering students conducting project work emphasizing through the analysis of mediated discourse from group meetings how disciplinary knowledge is transformed over time in a problem solving episode through the use of a variety of mediational means (scientific discourse, laboratory instruments, diagrams, and other documentation). Through the analysis of these micro-interactions we will illustrate the larger orders of discourse embedded within them.

In our work studying the development of identity among engineering students we have used a concept we have referred to as becoming an engineering which involves three dimensions: accountable discipline knowledge, practices of identification, and navigation. In many ways the concept of becoming an engineer unfolds in a similar manner to a trajectory in the sense that in analyzing the process of how students become engineers we observe and analyze a series of events over-time – the application process, shifts in the structure of the curriculum, how students create an engineering identity, and their senior design or capstone projects. It is this latter event, the senior design project/capstone, which will be the focus of the analytical work of this paper. We will show how accountable disciplinary knowledge and practices of identification emerge during social interaction among engineering students working on senior design projects with their peers that index the trajectory of learning either through identity or accountable disciplinary knowledge. In our analysis we will illustrate how over the course of this micro-trajectory how students take positions towards or away from one another, as well as positions related to their knowledge of the scientific problem at hand. It is through the analysis of these micro-interactions where we observe how larger aspects of becoming an engineer (big D discourse) are indexed within social interaction (little d discourse). We argue that an approach to trajectory analysis must involve timescales that can capture both the kinds of discourse.


Gee, James. (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: theory and method. New York: Routledge.

Lemke, J. L. (2000). Across the scales of time: Activities, artifacts, and meanings in ecosocial systems. Mind, Culture, Activity. 7, pp. 273-290.

Scollon, R. & Scollon, S. W. (2004). Nexus analysis: Discourse and the emerging internet. New York, NY: Routledge

Stevens, R., Garrison, L., O’Connor, K., Jocuns, A., & Amos, D. M. Becoming an Engineer. Submitted for review.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Trajectories of learning in/across contexts of learning
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 04