A Study of Competence in Mathematics and Mechanics in an Engineering Curriculum

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Professional bodies expect engineers to show competence in both mathematics and engineering topics such as mechanics, using their abilities in both of these to solve problems. Yet within engineering programmes there is a phenomena known as ‘The Mathematics Problem’, with students not demonstrating understanding of the subject. This paper will suggest that students are constructing different concept images in engineering and mathematics, based on their perception of either the use or exchange value for the topics. Using a mixed methods approach, the paper compares ten different types of concept image constructed by students, which suggests that familiar procedural images are preferred in mathematics. In contrast strategic and conceptual images develop for mechanics throughout the years of the programme, implying that different forms of competence are being constructed by students between the two subjects. The paper argues that this difference is attributed to the perceived use-value of mechanics in the career of the engineer, compared to the exchange-value associated with mathematics. Questions are raised about the relevance of current definitions of competence given that some routine mathematical operations previously performed by engineers are now being replaced by technology, in the new world of work.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1062-1075
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Engineering Education
Issue number6
Early online date21 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2017


  • Competence
  • Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Concept Image
  • Knowledge Types


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