This paper describes a critical decision method (CDM) study for investigating the phenomenon of teaching-related decision-making in engineering education. We interviewed 33 engineering faculty using this method and asked them to identify two memorable, recent teaching-related decisions: one pre-active (planning) decision and one interactive (in-class) decision. Faculty described the situation, the process of making the decision, the factors that they took into account, and their level of satisfaction with the outcomes of their teaching-related decision. In this paper, we focus on one specific factor that emerged across the majority of the interviews: the real world. We present ways in which faculty referred to the real world, and more specifically preparing students for professional practice, when making decisions about their teaching. Three themes provided insight regarding the participants’ beliefs about this concept; that the real world is hands-on, defineable in terms of professional standards, and that addressing it explicitly in teaching involves trade-offs.

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