June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
This paper focuses on creating greater opportunities and preparation for engineers to engage in interdisciplinary endeavors, as related to complex sociotechnical systems. Engineers first need to become aware of the societal needs and their various influencing factors, before they can apply their problem solving skills to improve the status-quo. Engineering students, accustomed to working with well-defined problems, may be baffled by the ambiguity and uncertainty in social and community issues. Social science students, on the other hand, are trained to make sense out of ill-defined problems. Thus, teaming up students from these two different backgrounds can help identify and solve (perhaps iteratively) societal challenges. To facilitate such a collaboration, faculty members from engineering and social sciences will concurrently teach courses for students in their disciplines, and bring their students together during the semester to interact and collaborate. Each team of 4 students will be assigned a case study to discuss, collect data on, and analyze by conducting what-if analysis. We have developed a specific application to showcase the flow to our students. For this we examined the top 100 US metropolitan areas for socio-economic demographics of four racial/ethnic groups and corresponding police-initiated homicides. Data for this came from federal, state, and county agencies, as well as non-governmental agencies. A J48 – decision tree algorithm written in Python was used to compare data across different races and ethnic groups for factors that predicted such homicides. As an example of results, the most important criteria was whether or not a person attended “some college.” Metropolitan crime rate and poverty level were not relevant. We hypothesize that, by providing scaffolding, and ’executable’ case studies through interaction with other disciplines, we can help engineering students to step out of their comfort zones and reflect on broader societal issues. The what-if case studies can also be introduced to high school students and sophomores in college through introductory social science courses. Since social science student populations are typically more diverse, the collaboration of students from these different disciplines will facilitate interaction and appreciation of different genders, ethnicities, worldviews, and multicultural norms. A community case study may also interest under-represented minorities (URM) and women to Computer Science and Data Science. Case studies may provide a path to invite and integrate fresh perspectives by actively recruiting URMs and women. Our approach is derived from two theoretical models with strong emphasis on student involvement in the learning process: active student engagement and project-based learning. Both approaches assume active student participation in learning practices where exchange of ideas, extensive collaboration, and interdisciplinary synergies are essential. We will also leverage two pedagogies: scaffolding students in their metacognition process to become self-directed learners and creation of a teaching program focusing on case discussion pedagogy. We expect to offer our courses during fall 2017. We will use pre and post surveys to measure improvements, if any, in students’ team skills, social awareness, and the metacognition process.
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