Observational research methods to explore intercultural competence in engineering



Publication Details

Goldfinch, T. & Layton, C. (2011). Observational research methods to explore intercultural competence in engineering. Research in Engineering Education Symposium


The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Wollongong has recently engaged in an Australian Learning and Teaching Council funded project to address issues of cultural diversity in engineering with a focus on the intercultural competence of first year engineering students and teaching staff. In the initial stages of this project, qualitative observational research techniques are being used to determine the current state, or baseline, of intercultural intelligence in first year engineering students. This paper describes the observational research method developed for this research, issues encountered and overcome, and some preliminary findings. Observational reference points have been established to collect instances of group interactions, along with a paper based survey to identify instances of cross-cultural interaction and intercultural competence. In this research, students are video-recorded over the course of a normal project team meeting or tutorial class. Several groups of students are observed to ensure a range of cultural backgrounds are included in the research, and also to identify whether any differences in students' approach to interacting with their teammates exist when obvious/anticipated differences in cultural backgrounds are present. Video recordings are being analysed using NVivo with the aid of observational reference points as research nodes. While this research is a work in progress, early results point towards a quite uniform self perception of cultural awareness, despite instances of group tension observed in class. The results of this research will be fed forward into the redesign of learning activities intended to increase students' awareness of their intercultural competence and group interactions.

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