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A Theoretical Model Of The Engineering Education Culture: A Tool For Change

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

Curricular Change Issues

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.133.1 - 8.133.15



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Elizabeth Godfrey

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2630

A Theoretical Model of the Engineering Education Culture: A Tool for Change

Elizabeth Godfrey The University of Auckland


The call for “a culture change in engineering education, ultimately to extend throughout the profession” in the Australian Review of Engineering Education: Changing the Culture1 threw a spotlight not only on the need for change but the need for change in the culture. In recommending a “more outward looking culture attuned to the real concerns of communities”, better communication skills, and political and social awareness, the Australian review echoed discussions occurring simultaneously in the UK, USA and Canada. Increasingly in the last seven years, the term “culture” has entered the engineering education discourse and it seems implicitly understood that engineering education has a distinctive culture, recognizable to all its practitioners. The unitary and homogeneous nature of this culture is itself open to question, but engineering educators undoubtedly recognize practices and behaviors, that transcend differences in engineering specialization and institutions and even national boundaries. Most courses have in common features such as the immutable nature of curriculum content, little choice in selection of subjects, a mechanistic rather than holistic approach, and a high emphasis on problem definition and solution within specific criteria - usually involving the appropriate application of mathematical equations2 .

A perceived flaw in the calls for cultural change is the assumption that engineering educators are familiar with the theories and models of culture and cultural change, which have their origins in anthropology and sociology. Engineering educators are much less likely than social scientists to have common understandings of the relationship between the concept of culture and observable behaviors and practices. The Australian Review highlighted a need to recognize “the differences between the values that underpin the existing culture and the espoused values to which it aspires”(p. 21) but did not make clear what those current underlying values were and stated that it was “imperative to question implicit assumptions, priorities and practices (p.5).

It is argued in this paper, that for long term cultural change, engineering educators need an understanding of not only, how (or if) the espoused values and ideals of engineering education are manifested in the lived experience that forms the current culture, but how that culture is formed and maintained. A theoretical model for the culture of engineering education is proposed which provides an analytical framework to identify the basic beliefs, values and assumptions held Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Godfrey, E. (2003, June), A Theoretical Model Of The Engineering Education Culture: A Tool For Change Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee. 10.18260/1-2--11770

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