Rodrigues-Silva, J., & Alsina, Á. (2023). Systematic Review About Students’ Conceptions Of Engineering Accessed Through
Drawings: Implications to STEAM Education, International Journal of Cognitive Research in Science, Engineering and
Education (IJCRSEE), 11(2), 199-211.
Educational approaches such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and
STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Humanities, and Mathematics) have gained ground
worldwide (Marín-Marín et al., 2021). Countries such as The United States of America (NGSS, 2013),
Korea (KOFAC, 2012), and Spain (MEFP, 2022) have incorporated them into their curriculum. Such
educational approaches place interdisciplinarity as a crucial aspect of education, especially under the
claim that siloed disciplines cannot address complex matters, e.g. sustainability which encompasses
economic, environmental, and social spheres (Rodrigues-Silva and Álsina, 2023a; Guyotte, 2020).
Alongside interdisciplinarity, STEM or STEAM entails inserting into the precollege curriculum
engineering—a discipline generally absent at this level. In this vein, discourses that promote STEM or
STEAM mention the urge to increase students’ interest in pursuing technical careers such as engineering,
which would be highly required in a technological world (Perignat and Katz-Buonincontro, 2019). At the
same time, researchers defend precollege engineering to increase girls’ interest towards this career and,
therefore, tackle the sustainable development goal of reducing the existent gender gap in engineering
(Aurava and Meriläinen, 2022; Cabello et al., 2021; United Nations, 2015).
Conversely, practices involving precollege engineering might side effects engineering image if
pedagogical planning and management overlook stereotypical conceptions (Fleer, 2021). For example,
Fleer (2021) proposed a free play activity wherein preschool children were incentivised to imagine
themselves as engineers while building bridges. The authors witnessed that boys mainly occupied the
“engineering area”—a space with tools to design and construct the bridge—while girls avoided this area.
Consequently, this activity may have reinforced their conception of engineering as a male profession.
Contrary to simply incorporating engineering, Moore et al. (2014) presented a precollege engineering
education framework and remarked that developing students’ conceptions of engineers and engineering
is essential. They argue that an accurate idea of engineering prevents reinforcing stereotypical views and
Systematic Review About Students’ Conceptions of Engineering
Accessed Through Drawings: Implications to STEAM Education
Jefferson Rodrigues-Silva
, Ángel Alsina
Department of mechanical engineering, Federal Institute of Minas Gerais (IFMG), Brazil, e-mail: jeffe.rodri@gmail.com
Department of subject-specic didactics, University of Girona (UdG), Spain, e-mail: angel.alsina@udg.edu
Abstract: We aim to review students’ conceptions of engineers and engineering accessed through their drawings.
Accordingly, we enrolled in a systematic review following the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
(PRISMA) protocols. For that, we established the Web of Science as the source of information. After applying eligibility criteria,
the search resulted in ten records. We observed that many reviewed studies enrolled in research designs which contained
comparisons of groups, cohorts (cross-age) or pre-post-tests. However, they generally overlooked appropriate statistical tests.
Overall, the studies evidenced that most students conceive engineers as males who work individually in manual activities and
outdoor environments. The major contribution of this study is providing an overview of the investigation of children’s conceptions
of engineering. Additionally, we call attention to the need for more research, teacher training, and carefully planned and executed
activities that enhance students’ conceptions of engineers and engineering instead of worsening stereotypes—especially
considering current curriculum proposals, such as STEAM education embracing engineering at precollege levels.
Keywords: Draw an Engineer Test, drawing, students, precollege engineering, STEM education, STEAM education.
Original scientic paper
Received: February, 15.2023.
Revised: May, 20.2023.
Accepted: May, 29.2023.
© 2023 by the authors. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the
Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Corresponding author: jeffe.rodri@gmail.com
Rodrigues-Silva, J., & Alsina, Á. (2023). Systematic Review About Students’ Conceptions Of Engineering Accessed Through
Drawings: Implications to STEAM Education, International Journal of Cognitive Research in Science, Engineering and
Education (IJCRSEE), 11(2), 199-211.
gives meaning to learning the following knowledge and abilities related to engineering.
Willing to access children’s conceptions of engineers, Knight and Cunningham (2004) proposed
the Draw an Engineer Test (DAET) as an instrument that to explore their ideas through drawings. This
instrument follows the theory of gurative thinking as the underpinning rationality of its analysis. According
to this theory, children’s symbolic expressions (signiers) represent personal systems of mental images
about objects (signieds) (Piaget and Inhelder, 1971). In this sense, interpreting the results obtained
through DAET is possible under the conception that children’s drawings may offer insights into their
mental images of engineering (Capobianco et al., 2011).
Researchers have applied this instrument in countries like the United States, China, and Turkey
(Capobianco et al., 2011; Diefes-Dux and Capobianco, 2011; Knight and Cunningham, 2004). Results
from those studies highlighted problems such as children’s misconceptions of engineering that might
prevent them from envisioning it as an intellectual activity. Additionally, from a very early age, children
already express gender bias toward engineering as a male career. Such an image likely averts some girls
from pursuing this profession.
In sum, countries gradually adopt educational approaches incorporating engineering at precollege
levels; studies identify children expressing misconceptions about engineering and gender bias, and
weakly structured activities are likely to worsen those misconceptions. This conguration conduces to two
research questions. First, how have students’ conceptions of engineers and engineering been investigated
through drawings? Furthermore, what are students’ conceptions of engineers and engineering?
Currently, no systematic review addressed studies exploring students’ engineering conceptions
through their drawings. In this sense, the literature lacks studies that provide an overview of this topic. Line
up to those interrogations and the identied gap in the literature. We aim to review students’ conceptions
of engineers and engineering accessed through their drawings.
Materials and Methods
Considering this research goal, we enrolled in a systematic literature review following the Preferred
Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) protocols. Accordingly, the
investigation process is informed to guarantee its rigour and reproducibility (Moher et al., 2015). It was
structured into the phases: 1) Search elements and Boolean logic, 2) Eligibility criteria, 3) Information
sources, 4) Data collection, and 5) Data analysis.
Search elements and Boolean logic
First, we identied engineer and engineering as central terms of the research goal. Then, the
words draw and drawing were acknowledged as appropriate terms to lter studies that applied drawings
to access people’s conceptions. Two additional words, conception and stereotype, were considered to
rene the search in order to prevent nding studies on engineering technical drawing. Given all that, the
Boolean logic was created: ENGINEER* and DRAW* and (CONCEPTION or STEREOTYPE). Moreover,
we established that the word engineer should be scanned in the title—given its centrality in this study—
and the other terms of the Boolean logic in the title, abstract, author, keywords, or keywords plus.
Eligibility criteria
In this second phase, we established the eligibility criteria applied in this review, as presented in
Table 1. First, we xed that the documents should be peer-reviewed because this evaluation indicates
some research quality. Following this, we established that the records could have the format of an
article or conference proceedings. We included documents published since 2004, which correspond to
when the DAET instrument was created by Knight and Cunningham (2004). Since we are interested in
students’ conceptions, we secure that the document was classied in the educational research area and
the population was centred on students. Finally, we included documents published in English because
it is considered a universal language in the current scientic community. Moreover, we were open to
considering Spanish and Portuguese documents to prot authors’ knowledge in those languages to
broaden the research scope. The exclusion criteria were essentially antonyms of the inclusion ones.
Rodrigues-Silva, J., & Alsina, Á. (2023). Systematic Review About Students’ Conceptions Of Engineering Accessed Through
Drawings: Implications to STEAM Education, International Journal of Cognitive Research in Science, Engineering and
Education (IJCRSEE), 11(2), 199-211.
Table 1
Eligibility criteria
Information sources
In this third phase, we selected the Web of Science (WoS) index from Clarivate as the information
source because of its recognised rigour and importance in science, particularly in the educational eld.
Data collection
Once the Boolean logic, the eligibility criteria, and the source of information are established, we
nally move to the review’s fourth phase, which consists of collecting and treating data. A scan enrolled
on 30 October 2022 resulted in 74 records. We used the WoS platform to lter the type of document,
publication period, research area, and language. After that, we read the abstract and full texts to ensure
the documents included were correct—DAET instrument and focused on students.
At this point, we observed that three articles were non-eligible—Thomas et al. (2020, 2016) had to
be discarded because they were focused on students but developing a rubric and validating a modied
version of the DAET, and Diefes-Dux and Capobianco (2011) study because they presented a specic
analysis of data from another study which was already contemplated in the list of reviewed articles
(Capobianco et al., 2011). Eventually, as shown in Figure 1, the data collection process was conducted to
a nal list of ten documents—articles and conference proceedings.
Figure 1. Data collection process.
Data analysis
We used the Atlas-ti program to provide the word occurrence from those ten selected articles. For
this, we excluded numbers and set the threshold of 80 accounts. Then, we plotted the information in word
cloud format to visually analyse the accuracy of those documents concerning the Boolean logic and the
research goal.
During analysing data, we did several reads and comparisons between the documents. We
observed categories of information that could be organised into three blocks:
General research features: methodology approach, sample size, design, intervention,
educational level, publication year and region;
Data collection instrument and procedure details: the instruction for making the drawing,
Rodrigues-Silva, J., & Alsina, Á. (2023). Systematic Review About Students’ Conceptions Of Engineering Accessed Through
Drawings: Implications to STEAM Education, International Journal of Cognitive Research in Science, Engineering and
Education (IJCRSEE), 11(2), 199-211.
the instructions and questions asking for a description of the drawing, application time, applicants, and
complementary interviews;
Common results: students’ conception of gender (male or female), place of work (out-door or
indoor), activity (manual or intellectual), and work setting (individual or collective). Moreover, we addressed
the interventions, gender, and age comparisons.
For this last part regarding studies’ typical results, whenever necessary, we recalculated the
frequency percentages of the four variables— students’ conception of gender, place of work, activity, and
work setting— considering the total sample size of each study. Matusovich et al. (2021), for example,
represented the results of students’ opinions on engineering activities through a horizontal bar chart. In
this case, we had to estimate the values using the scale presented in the gure.
Moreover, we run one-sample proportion tests on Statistical Package for the Social Sciences
(SPSS) program to verify whether the frequency differs statistically between the levels of each variable—
using a threshold of 5% of signicance. Furthermore, researchers were not always able to interpret,
for example, the gender portrayed in the drawings; children may not have pictured a human gure or
represented both. Therefore, we created an extra class for each variable to account for indiscernible
information from drawings.
Regarding the conception of engineers’ activities, we accounted as manual undertaking: x,
build, construct, repair, drive, make a single product (craft), and operate machines. Furthermore, as an
Intellectual undertaking, the activities: create, optimise, invent, design, supervise/observe, use math,
use science, use technology, solve problems, research, experiment, test, and teach. We clarify that
occasionally, engineers can be involved with all those activities, but engineering primarily deals with highly
complex issues that demand more cognitive abilities (Moore et al., 2014).
We did not further the review aspects evaluated by a few researchers, such as skin colour (Ergun
and Balcin, 2019; Fralick et al., 2009), smiling faces (Ata-Aktürk and Demircan, 2021a), and the presence
of engineers in students’ family (Capobianco et al., 2011).
Now on, we present the review results. Beforehand, we highlight the scarcity of studies exploring
students’ conceptions of engineering since only ten documents were eligible. In Figure 2, a word cloud
demonstrates that the terms engineers, drawn, students, education, and conceptions are frequently
written in the reviewed documents. This result conrms a substantial relationship between the selected
manuscripts and our research goal. Additionally, we call attention to the words test, DAET, gender, design,
and STEM occurrence. Those elements will be further addressed in this review.
Figure 2. Word cloud of the reviewed documents.
Review of general research features
Table 2 summarises the rst block of information that explores general research features: author,
year of publication, region, educational level, sampling, sample (N), intervention, grouping, design, and
statistics. It is observable that authors contributed with only one record each, which indicates that no
researcher could be considered an exponent of the topic. Regarding geographic distribution, the United
States of America outstand as the country with more studies—six in total. Turkey has two studies, while
China and Mexico have only one each.