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Wednesday, July 3 • 3:30pm - 4:10pm
Academics' conceptualisations of innovation in engineering education in Zimbabwean universities

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Innovation has become a catch-phrase for many institutions that promise its development as a key outcome of the curriculum. But there is little clarity as to what innovation looks like or how it is curriculated. In this study, I attempt to make sense of how innovation is legitimated (or not) by those responsible for design courses in engineering curricula. The need for such a study arises from the call for Zimbabwean Higher Education to drive the innovation agenda set by the State to produce graduates who can contribute to the resolution of the economic predicament the country is facing. In this regard, this paper aims to investigate some of the complexities surrounding the conceptualisation and promotion of innovation in two Zimbabwean universities.

Using Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), the study investigates how innovation is legitimated as knowledge in engineering curricula. Drawing on one dimension of LCT, Specialisation (Maton 2005, 2011, 2013), the study examines underlying structuring principles of innovation in engineering education uncovering how innovation is conceived and legitimated. Specialisation analyses what makes something worthy of distinction (Maton et al., 2015) and is useful in determining how education practice is legitimated in a field. It looks at relations to knowledge skills and processes, epistemic relations (ER) and it looks at legitimation through relations to the knower, social relations (SR).

The evidence of knowledge of innovation as a set of processes, possibly entailing engineering concepts, engineering calculations, subjects incorporated in the product design, with little concern about having a particular gaze or way of being may reflect a knowledge code. If, on the other hand, there is little evidence of innovation as a set of skills, processes or concepts but there is strong concern with evidence of attitudes, experiences and related characteristics related to innovations development, this could reflect a knower code. If both strongly the means of Specialisation, this indicates an elite code. If innovation was nowhere or only weakly evident in both ER and SR, then this would constitute a relativist code.This study interrogated these concepts to help understand what is legitimated as innovation by academics in engineering education in Zimbabwe.

This study employed a case study methodology. Case study methodology was chosen because of the alignment with the LCT framework due to the intensive focus on meaning making and relations within a context (Yin, 2013) aligned to the analysis of actors’ dispositions and practices in those contexts (Maton 2013). The paper focused on the voice of the lecturers and their curriculum. The study employed a case study design, with a two-pronged data collection protocol, entailing document analysis and interviews. Data was collected through in-depth interviews with key informants who are the Dean of the faculty/school, two Chairpersons and one Director of Innovation (the school/faculty management team) from each of the two institutions under study and interviews with10 lecturers from one institution and 8 from the other institution teaching courses related to design projects. The interviews each took between thirty minutes and an hour. Data was also collected in the form of documents such as: module outcomes, design project briefs, final design project assessments, teaching resources, methods of delivery and any other documents related to the promotion of innovation that they avail to students. Textbooks were also included in the document analysis with lecturers indicating which aspects or chapters were regarded as seminal for developing innovation in the curriculum. Document analysis was in this case be used to validate interview data.
The research design allowed an exploration of a socially constructed phenomenon (Creswell, 2009) specifically in this study the conceptualisation and promotion of innovation within engineering education in Zimbabwe’s Higher Education system. Plotting how lecturers conceptualised innovation assisted in establishing the extent to which they regard innovation as being informed by social and/or epistemic relations. The responses from the interviews as well as the document analysis were plotted using a scatter diagram on the Specialisation Cartesian plane to establish the dominant code (Friendly and Denis 2005). Plotting the ways in which lecturers conceive of innovation and how innovation is indicated in the curriculum documents, helped to establish how innovation is conceptualised and legitimated in the design modules of the engineering curriculum in Zimbabwe’s HE. It is hoped that the results will inform higher education engineering studies by uncovering the rules by which academics recognise and assess innovation and the keys for success can be made more explicit to students.

Wednesday July 3, 2019 3:30pm - 4:10pm SAST
Room B48