Quantitative, Qualitative, and Mixed Research Methods in Engineering Education


  • Maura Borrego,

    Corresponding author
    1. Engineering Education Virginia Tech
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    • Maura Borrego is an assistant professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Dr. Borrego holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Her current research interests center around interdisciplinary collaboration in engineering and engineering education. Funded by her CAREER grant, she also studies interdisciplinarity in engineering graduate programs nationwide.

  • Elliot P. Douglas,

    Corresponding author
    1. Materials Science and Engineering University of Florida
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    • Elliot P. Douglas is an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He received his doctorate in Polymer Science and Engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. His research interests in engineering education are in the areas of active learning, critical thinking, and the use of qualitative methods.

  • Catherine T. Amelink

    Corresponding author
    1. Division of Student Affairs Virginia Tech
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    • Catherine T. Amelink is currently serving as the Assessment Coordinator for the Division of Student Affairs, Virginia Tech. She received her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She currently works with departments on program review activities, data analysis, and assessment of learning outcomes. Her research interests include work-life spillover among faculty and issues confronting underrepresented groups in the STEM fields.

Engineering Education (0218), Blacksburg, Virginia 24061; telephone: (+1) 540.231.9536; e-mail: mborrego@vt.edu.

323 Materials Engineering Building, Box 116400, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611; telephone: (+1) 352. 846.2836; fax: (+1) 352.392.3771; e-mail: edoug@mse.ufl.edu.

112 Burruss Hall (0250), Blacksburg, VA 24061; e-mail: amelink@vt.edu.


The purpose of this research review is to open dialog about quantitative, qualitative, and mixed research methods in engineering education research. Our position is that no particular method is privileged over any other. Rather, the choice must be driven by the research questions. For each approach we offer a definition, aims, appropriate research questions, evaluation criteria, and examples from the Journal of Engineering Education. Then, we present empirical results from a prestigious international conference on engineering education research. Participants expressed disappointment in the low representation of qualitative studies; nonetheless, there appeared to be a strong preference for quantitative methods, particularly classroom-based experiments. Given the wide variety of issues still to be explored within engineering education, we expect that quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches will be essential in the future. We encourage readers to further investigate alternate research methods by accessing some of our sources and collaborating across education/social science and engineering disciplinary boundaries.