Research Statement

My research interests include studying and developing curricular and co-curricular learning environments that expose business, engineering, art, technology, and science students to interdisciplinary collaboration, challenge-based learning, entrepreneurship, and design thinking. I plan to establish guidelines regarding the types of tools, spaces, and contexts needed for a successful environment, and how the environment forms a community of innovation among its participants. Implementation of these learning environments should improve students’ 21st century skills and increase engagement in solving society's toughest problems. 


Research Experiences

As a doctoral student, I have had several research experiences that required engagement in interdisciplinary settings within STEM (and STEAM) education.  My research experiences began in engineering education as a graduate research assistant, using qualitative methods to analyze an interdisciplinary design course involving engineering, art, and landscape architecture students. The goal of the NSF funded project (#1160350) was to investigate how engineering students engage in synergistic learning during the course. Through another NSF project (#1025190), I collected qualitative data to determine the role of emotions in engineering student learning. Using this data, I was able to develop a common trajectory of emotions students encounter while engaging in the curriculum. These initial research experiences helped me understand the structure and mechanics of working on an interdisciplinary research team as well as how I can use qualitative methods such as interviews and document analysis in engineering education research.

My current research involves the development and investigation of an informal entrepreneurship and design thinking practice field. I use descriptive statistics and grounded theory analysis of interviews to create design principles for developing these practice fields. I also investigate how communities of innovation form during activities in these practice fields, how just-in-time learning tools facilitate innovation scaffolding in these communities, and how participants in these communities overcome challenges. I use theories such as situated learning, experiential learning, and constructivism as a lens to develop authentic activity in the practice field and to enable students to interact within a simulated work environment. My current project has inspired my research interests in developing environments for students in business and STEAM fields.


Future Research

While there are many positive outcomes associated with informal learning environments, students from technical fields often do not participate in many extra-curricular activities due to heavy workload and the absence of curriculum credit. To address these barriers to participation, I plan to investigate how I can transfer the aspects of an informal entrepreneurship and design thinking practice field into either a classroom curriculum or another environment that would allow students to receive credit for their participation. While I am more intrigued by the use of qualitative methods such as interviews, observations, and document analysis, I am comfortable using quantitative and mixed methods if warranted based on the research purpose and questions. 

I am interested in creating and investigating new interdisciplinary experiences which will provide opportunities for students in technical fields to work with students from non-technical fields. These opportunities are important in developing T-shaped professionals. The “T” provides a visual for skills professionals should possess. The vertical line of the “T” represents the depth of skill students develop while studying their disciplines. The horizontal line of the “T” represents the ability to collaborate across disciplines through empathy and other 21st century skills such as creativity, communication, and critical thinking. Through my research, I hope to develop more opportunities for students to develop into T-shaped professionals. I am also interested in developing new models of higher education. I am inspired by projects such as Stanford2025 and Minerva that seek to provide innovative, inexpensive, interdisciplinary experiences to students. I think these projects are key to keeping higher education relevant in our society.

Design Research

I am an advocate of using design research. Design research involves the development of grounded theories by studying the design of a learning solution in a real world context. Design research promotes long-engagement and collaboration with practitioners. For my current research, I used the iterative method of analysis and exploration, design and construction, then evaluation and reflection to inform the design of the entrepreneurship and design thinking practice field over a two year period. Each iterative cycle produced insights that determined adjustments for the next study. I believe using this research approach is essential for conducting productive research in engineering and STEAM education.

© Gregory Wilson 2012