Fostering a capacity for relational agency in undergraduate engineering and IT

Curran Associates, Inc.
Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
9th Research in Engineering Education Symposium and 32nd Australasian Association for Engineering Education Conference, REES AAEE 2021: Engineering Education Research Capability Development, 2021, 2, pp. 1005-1012
Issue Date:
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CONTEXT Relational agency is the capacity for professional practitioners working in complex, inter-professional environments to align actions with others, interpret and solve complex problems - a core skill required in engineering practice. As part of a review and redesign of groupwork activities in large cohort, group project based, professional practice subjects at the University of Technology Sydney, we investigated using relational agency as a lens through which to evaluate and update our groupwork activities. Initial research investigated the capacity for relational agency in students and proposed a framework that described the development of this capacity from “novice” to “professional”. This paper extends and reports on this work. PURPOSE OR GOAL Our goal was to verify our proposed framework by applying this to data collected from two students and two tutor focus groups. The aim is to gain further insight to inform the design of activities and assessments that develop the capacity for relational agency in students. APPROACH OR METHODOLOGY/METHODS Focus groups were held with tutors from one second-year and two first-year subjects (the same subjects as in the pilot study). Tutors' perspectives on the development of relational agency were compared to previous findings. Additional focus groups were also held with students. The proposed framework was used to characterise the relational agency displayed by students and an inductive qualitative analysis done to identify any additional themes that emerged from this sample. The results from the student focus groups were triangulated using self and peer review data from the students and their group members. ACTUAL OR ANTICIPATED OUTCOMES Relational agency is a useful tool for understanding the skills that engineers need in professional practice. Our framework has value in characterising the development of this capacity and may be most useful in planning curriculum and learning over multiple subjects, rather than the development of group activities and assessments at the individual subject level. The focus group data confirmed the enablers and inhibitors for relational agency. We argue that these are valuable independent of the context of the framework. CONCLUSIONS/RECOMMENDATIONS/SUMMARY Initial research identified the capacity for relational agency as a valid lens for reviewing group work activities. However, we conclude that it is more useful at a subject level to focus on the enabling and inhibiting factors identified in this study, rather than on the broader scope of capacity for relational agency. Future work may look at a “whole of degree” application of the development of the capacity for relational agency as part of the learning trajectory for achieving graduate outcomes.
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