CCSE seminar series: Dr. Chandra Turpen: Examining how undergraduate engineering educators produce, reproduce, or challenge technocracy in pedagogical reasoning

Sociologists and historians of science/engineering have documented the salience of meritocracy and technocracy in engineering and engineering education (Cech, 2014; Slaton, 2015; Riley, 2008). Meritocracy, a problematic worldview, conveys that “worth” accrues with an individual based solely on their own accomplishment.

Image may contain: Woman, Face, Hair, Eyebrow, Facial expression.

Dr. Chandra Turpen

Meritocracy is often paired with a technocratic ideology, which draws a line between technical and “soft” (e.g., social) skills and assigns more worth to the technical. Some engineering education scholars have begun to document how technocracy and meritocracy have been mechanisms of marginalization within engineering education (Slaton, 2015; Foor, Walden, & Trytten, 2007; Secules, Gupta, Elby, & Turpen, 2018).

Our team has been engaged in the iterative redesign of a pedagogy seminar for engineering peer educators working within a college-level introduction to engineering design course. We study peer educators, in particular, because they are in a unique position to do harm if the ideologies of meritocracy and technocracy aren't challenged. Likewise, they are in a unique position to do good if they actively disrupt these ideologies in the introductory engineering design course.

Using tools of discourse analysis, we analyze how technocratic stances are reproduced or challenged in engineering peer educators’ talk within particular pedagogy seminar discussions. Additionally, we document a variety of lenses that peer educators use to make sense of “trouble” within design teams, such as individual accountability, delegation of work, and emergent systems explanations. We believe that such empirical examples can help engineering educators hone their attention to student thinking in the classroom and help us understand what it might look like to see evidence of growth in educators’ reasoning.


Dr. Turpen graduated with her PhD in Physics from the University of Colorado in 2010. Dr. Chandra Turpen is now a research assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland focusing on physics education research (PER) and engineering education research (EER).

Turpen’s work involves designing and researching contexts for learning within higher education for both students and faculty. Her research draws from perspectives in anthropology, cultural psychology, and the learning sciences. Through in-situ studies of classroom practice and institutional practice, she focuses on the role of culture and ideology in science learning and educational change.

She pursues projects that have high potential for leveraging equitable change in undergraduate STEM programs and she makes these struggles for change a direct focus of her research efforts.

She also serves on several national leadership bodies: the Physics Education Research Leadership Organizing Council (PERLOC), the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Committee on Diversity in Physics, the National Learning Assistant Alliance, and the Access Network.

Published Sep. 25, 2019 4:53 PM - Last modified Mar. 4, 2020 5:46 PM