Review Article

The role of undergraduate laboratories in the formation of engineering identities: A critical review of the literature

Christine Winberg, Simon L. Winberg
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 17, No 1 | a962 | DOI: | © 2021 Christine Winberg, Simon L. Winberg | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 21 September 2020 | Published: 26 April 2021

About the author(s)

Christine Winberg, Professional Education Research Institute, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Cape Town, South Africa
Simon L. Winberg, Department of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa


Background: There was growing recognition worldwide by professional engineering bodies, engineering faculties and researchers on the need to pay attention to engineering students’ emerging identities and how they were formed across the trajectory of undergraduate engineering programmes. An increasing number of research studies focused on engineering identity, including systematic reviews of the research literature.

Aim: Engineering laboratories were key learning spaces in undergraduate engineering programmes. In the laboratory, students learned to integrate theory and practice, engaged in problem-solving and applied experimental methods. The purpose of this critical review of the literature was to interrogate the impact that learning in engineering laboratories had on emerging professional identities across engineering disciplines and fields.

Method: This review built on and extended previous systematic reviews on engineering identity by studying pedagogies in the engineering laboratory through the lens of identity formation. Search terms were consistently applied to eight databases, which yielded 57 empirical studies, after the application of relevance and quality appraisal criteria. Two reviewers independently applied a socio-materialist theoretical framework of identify formation to each study and coded each of the studies into categories aligned with the theoretical framework.

Results: The findings of the critical review revealed the temporal, spatial, material, performative and discursive dimensions in engineering identity formation and showed that students’ emerging identities could be affirmed and supported by appropriate laboratory pedagogies.

Conclusion: The critical review of the literature concluded that curricular and pedagogical interventions that were better aligned with the dimensions of identity formation were more likely to enhance students’ identification with engineering.


engineering; undergraduate laboratories; identity; ontological formation; socio-materialism; critical review of the literature; curriculum; pedagogy.


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