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A Provisional History of the Idea of "Soft" vs. "Hard" Skills in Engineering Education

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

'Diversity' and Inclusion? Pedagogy, Experiences, Language and Performative Action

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count

12

DOI

10.18260/1-2--36604

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/36604

Download Count

62

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Paper Authors

biography

Kathryn A. Neeley University of Virginia

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Kathryn Neeley is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Engineering and Society Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. She has served twice as chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering and Society Division of ASEE and received that division's Sterling Olmsted Award for outstanding contributions to liberal education for engineers.

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Abstract

This paper reports on the first phase of a work-in-progress: a historical and philosophical inquiry into why the terminology of soft versus hard skills emerged, how it has evolved in engineering education, why it has been so persistent, why it is problematic, and how we might begin to move beyond it in engineering education.

Here, the focus is on the circumstances that led to the emergence and prevalence of the term in two different contexts: (1) the discourse community of speakers of English as represented in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and (2) the discourse community of engineering education as reflected in papers published by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) in the period 1996-2020.

The combination of these two perspectives reveals that (1) the hard-soft skills distinction emerged in the context of leadership development in the military, (2) the terminology was viewed as problematic from the beginning, (3) the discourse on soft skills is by no means limited to engineering education; (4) interest in the topic has increased dramatically in ASEE since 1996; and (5) implementation of the EC2000 accreditation criteria provided the impetus for that increase.

Neeley, K. A. (2021, July), A Provisional History of the Idea of "Soft" vs. "Hard" Skills in Engineering Education Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36604

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