Complex systems research and evaluation in engineering education

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Publication Title

ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings


American Society for Engineering Education




The purpose of this theory-to-practice paper is to discuss complex systems research needs within engineering education. We provide a comprehensive definition of complex systems educational research (Hilpert & Marchand, under review; Jacobson et al., 2016) and an overview of methods specific to the approach (Hollenstein, 2013; Koopsman & Stavalomsis, 2016; Strogatz, 1994). After this, we delineate a research-based framework that can be used to develop and conduct complex systems research and evaluation. We identify two areas within the field of engineering education where complex systems research can be useful: 1) educational research focused on student interaction and cognition and 2) assessment and evaluation of collaboratives such as grant funded projects and communication/publication networks. We discuss existing literature in these spaces, and then outline the critical research needs for engineering education. We address each of these critical needs with an eye on theory as well as methodological and analytic techniques that can be used to design and conduct complex systems research and evaluation in engineering education settings and contexts. The result is a set of specific guidelines that researchers can use to move complex systems research forward in engineering education. © American Society for Engineering Education, 2017.