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A Framework to Guide the Implementation of Pre-College Service-Learning Engineering Curricula

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Pre-College: Engineering Undergraduates as Teachers

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Sneha A. Tharayil The University of Texas, Austin

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Sneha Tharayil is currently pursuing her PhD in STEM Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Her past experiences teaching middle school science and language arts as well as her involvement with national STEM teacher professional development initiatives like NASA Spaceward Bound and STEM Teacher and Researcher (STAR) internship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory inspired Sneha to develop a keen interest in pre-college engineering education. She sees engineering as a rich context for integrated STEM learning. She is particularly interested in social justice and socially-conscious pedagogies for teaching engineering to Pre-college students, especially those pedagogical strategies like project-based service-learning. Sneha holds her Masters in Education-Curriculum and Instruction from Cal Poly Pomona University, and her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from Azusa Pacific University.

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With enduring national ideals of civic responsibility and social awareness, the service-learning pedagogy has historically been endorsed in both national and local educational efforts. Further justification for the pedagogy also comes from sociocultural constructivist learning theories and from motivational theorists in the educational psychology community who suggest that a sense of social purpose and altruism are meta predictors of learning and academic achievement. Perhaps most compellingly, equity research in engineering education shows that social contribution, for which service-learning is an effective, authentic pedagogy, is often an important motivator and encourages the interest and retention of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering. However, while the service-learning literature in engineering education at the post-secondary level is abundant, there exists a dire lack of such research earlier in the educational pipeline. The current paper aims to synthesize the pre-college service-learning and pre-college engineering education literatures to develop a working framework to guide the implementation of service-learning engineering curricula at the PreK-12 level. More specifically, it examines the various spectra of considerations pertaining to the contexts of service, project-selection, and assessment that emerge in the literature and which should inform curriculum development efforts for pre-college service-learning engineering education. After reviewing the literature to define service-learning, I offer conceptualizations of the various decisional spectra relevant to the aforementioned three aspects of pre-college engineering service-learning curriculum design. The decisions for the context for service-learning represent a three-dimensional theoretical space defined by: 1. the type of service (direct vs. indirect) 2. the level of integration and (fully integrated vs. supplemental) 3. the time investment (long vs. short). Given the relatively nascent emergence of engineering as a formalized curricular objective in the Prek-12 setting, there exist further considerations nested within these meta axes of context such as: engineering’s place in the pre-college landscape as a discipline on its own or integrated into other existing academic subjects (level of integration); and, the level of engagement with the engineering design process in a service-learning project (type of service x time investment). Project-selection can be conceptualized as the intersection of three continua: resource availability; constituent choice; student capacities (the complex, dynamic extrinsic and intrinsic factors that may allow or hinder students’ meaningful participation in service-learning initiatives). Finally, though there is much debate regarding the best practices for assessment in service-learning curricula, assessment decisions appear to fall along the spectrum of standardized/traditional assessments vs. performance-based/portfolio assessments. The place of engineering in the PreK-12 academic landscape is still largely undefined. This framework aims to help educators better conceptualize and discern how they might integrate and engage young learners in engineering, particularly through a social-justice and altruistically oriented pedagogy. Future work would include: developing a framework for evaluating pre-college service-learning engineering programs (for both student-learning, and community-partner outcomes); examining the best practices for assessing PreK-12 engineering in the context of service-learning; and developing a framework that elucidates the implementation barriers for engineering service-learning curricula in the pre-college setting.

Tharayil, S. A. (2017, June), A Framework to Guide the Implementation of Pre-College Service-Learning Engineering Curricula Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27464

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