S9-S&SI4-4 - Broadening engineering perspectives by emphasizing the human side of engineering

1. Innovative Practice Work In Progress
Neelam Prabhu Gaunkar1 , Nicholas D Fila1, Mani Mina1
1 Iowa State University

Engineers play integral roles in all technical organizations. However, in playing specific technical roles, engineers can often lose focus towards the big picture and impact. Thereafter, to be a part of future technological developments, engineers need to learn how to connect and appreciate all human endeavors, even their own, thus engaging beyond technical aspects. It is expected that technological shapeshifters, those who understand the values of social reality and technical competencies, will be better positioned to face the socio-technical challenges of the future developments. Is it possible to develop such an appreciation through early engineering curricula?

In the present day, most engineering programs are focused on imparting highly detailed technical knowledge to their students. Some of the forward-looking programs and faculty are bringing the socio-technical perspectives to the engineering education, but to-date they are not the majority. Though the students remain interested in the general subject area, often times they lack practical relevance.  Consequently, learning through memorization implies that students quickly forget what they have learned and fall behind in other related courses. It is well documented that students can retain more about courses where they have participated in team activities, problem-solving, etc. In addition, in an impactful relatable course effective instruction can help overcome some of these issues. While many of these might be situational, through our work, we seek evidence that socio-technical awareness provides students with a connected verbalization, and deeper learning to successfully progress in their careers. 

In recent years, it is also becoming apparent that a lack of attention to human values and the human side of engineering will create disconnects between the social responsibility of engineers and their place as technical citizens and leaders. Our main research question is if incorporation of a humanistic approach to engineering, enables engineers to be more engaged and involved in their learning. In particular, a content analysis of student reflections will be performed to investigate the impact of socio-technical factors such as empathy, emancipation and personal connection to students learning and perspectives. 

[1]. N. Prabhu Gaunkar, M. Rands, and M. Mina. "Variations in Student Learning in an Inquiry-based Freshmen Electrical Engineering Course." In 2017 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE), vol. 10. 2017.

[2]. T. Strayhorn, College students' sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge, 2018.

[3]. C. Baillie, and G. Fitzgerald. "Motivation and attrition in engineering students." European Journal of Engineering Education 25, no. 2 (2000): 145-155.