June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
14.102.1 - 14.102.10
A Service-Learning Experience in Engineering and Its Impact on Students
The engineering education literature addressing service learning as a new pedagogy and its assessment and benefits is scarce. This paper describes a concise engineering service-learning experience in the context of a typical heat transfer course for undergraduate mechanical engineering students. The service learning was designed to probe the ability of students to a) explain the societal context of engineering, b) explain the importance of pro-active community service, and demonstrate an inclination to continue such service in the future, c) exhibit an appreciation of communication with non-engineers and finally, d) challenge some of the students’ stereotypes regarding others. The service-learning project was executed in collaboration with a local not-for-profit organization. Reflections were conducted by the students by answering a set of carefully-phrased questions after conducting the project. Analysis of students’ responses as well as the implications of the trends obtained, are explained in this paper. The recorded benefits of service learning are described and can be expected from similar service learning projects in other engineering courses.
The societal context of engineering has been gaining a lot of interest in engineering education forums in the US and around the world. Pascail1 contended that engineers must work and think technical and human problems through together, without separating these two spheres. Ravesteijn et al.2 emphasized the engineers must acquire the ability to understanding social dynamics of technology and to communicate facts, values and emotions on different levels. Santander Gana and Trejo Fuentes3 viewed technology as a human practice and a social activity that develops as a result of various intrinsically-woven socio-cultural circumstances. Engineers Australia4 and many new science and technology policies in Europe emphasize the importance of societal values connected to engineering.5 In the US, outcome ‘h’ in the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology’s (ABET) Engineering Criteria 2000 deals with the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in an environmental and societal context.6 The National Academy of Engineers stressed that the years between now and the year 2020 will require that engineers strengthen their leadership role in society.7
Traditional engineering programs are usually more focused on technical development, not on preparing socially-responsible engineers with a strong sense of citizenship.8 Service learning is a viable solution for addressing this issue. Service learning is a pedagogy that provides students with structured opportunities to learn, develop and reflect through active participation in community projects.8 It is an opportunity to learn several non-technical skills.9 Service-learning develops students’ awareness, cultural sensitivity, empathy and a desire to use technical skills to promote peace and human development.10-13 Tsang14 classifies service learning as experiential education, and says that it as elements of drama and dilemma, just like the real world.
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