New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
A Liberal Education Certified: A panel on integrating liberal education in a large, research-based institution
Engineering programs that provide opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, hands-on learning, and creativity are seen to help develop professionals more aware of their world and invested in its improvement. This liberal education can be achieved in multiple ways, through project-based learning, design-focused curricula, and exposure to non-technical disciplines, including the humanities and social sciences (HSS). Programs that successfully incorporate these approaches are often found within smaller, teaching-focused colleges, which can focus resources on creating these opportunities. Notably, Rose-Hulman, Harvey Mudd and Olin College, ranked top three for undergraduate engineering education in the 2015 US News and World’s university rankings, have mission statements articulating a student-focused experiential approach to engineering learning, while boasting enrollments of at most 2,200, and a single college focus: engineering and technology.
Achieving this type of holistic education is more challenging for larger multidisciplinary research institutions. The University of Toronto (Uoft) for example, has a student population of over 84,000 spread across three campuses and seventeen different degree granting Faculties (the equivalent of Colleges within the American system). Its Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering (FASE) has an enrollment of close to 5500 undergraduate and 2100 graduate students spread across a further eight departments. The size and complexity of UofT’s administrative model makes a centralized change in teaching philosophy challenging to implement across programs, and without embedded and integrated HSS offerings, students often look to outside Faculties for their complementary studies requirements. In this situation, students face multiple challenges: administratively, they compete with their HSS colleagues for spots in popular courses; culturally, they must adapt to new pedagogical approaches and classroom norms; and practically, they are forced to juggle the hefty demands of an engineering workload with the expectations of an HSS classroom. This panel discusses the small-scale approach developed at UofT to circumvent many of these challenges while ensuring that our students are provided with meaningful opportunities in the liberal arts.
Seven years ago UofT’s Engineering Communication Program (ECP) introduced a suite of HSS electives to provide students with an alternative path to a liberal education. Led by faculty members from ECP in their area of specialization, these courses expose students to a new discipline using familiar approaches and content. Today, we offer six such electives--Representing Science on Stage, Science and Technology in the Popular Media, Language and Power, Engineering and Science in the Arts, Language and Meaning, and The Power of Story--as well as the opportunity to earn a Certificate in Communication. Awarded to students who complete three of these courses, the Certificate reflects the FASE’s success in promoting and rewarding student engagement in educational opportunities outside the core curriculum.
In this panel of the Associate Professors, Teaching Stream, and Lecturers who teach these courses, we explain our context at a top-flight research university, before discussing our courses and assessing their success in providing a liberal education for our students. A discussion period will allow us to share insights into how our approach could be adapted to programs that share characteristics of our institution.
*Note that this abstract is for a panel, and as per LEES guidelines identifying information has not been redacted.
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