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Applications of Reflective Thinking Exercises in Both Technological Literacy and Standard Engineering Courses

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

The Philosophy of Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.226.1 - 26.226.20



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Paper Authors


Mani Mina Iowa State University

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Mani Mina is with the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University. He is also an active collaborator and participant in the department of Industrial Design. He has been working on better understanding of students' learning and issues of technological and engineering philosophy and literacy. In particular how such literacy and competency are reflected in curricular and student activities.

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How can the technological literacy and engineering classes help each other? Brief reflections on experience, learning, and philosophyAbstractAfter 7 years of working on creating, implementing, advancing, and expanding technologicalliteracy classes at our institutions and studying and working with programs at other institutions,many interesting issues, challenges, and questions are facing our efforts. This paper is anattempt to review the goals, important objectives, some of the achievements and possibilities forthe future developments. However, most importantly this paper focused on the relationshipbetween technological literacy and engineering classes. Is it possible to learn from what thedevelopments and implementations of one to improve the other classes? Should there be aconnection between these two set of classes? On the surface there seems to be very little incommon except basis concepts that they share. However, upon further reflections one can findidentifiers, trends and experiences from one that can help develop the other classes. The mainobjective of this paper is to examine this relationship and introduce finding and possibilities.Introduction and motivationThe growth in technological literacy efforts that were connected with two major publicationsTechnically Speaking and Tech Tally 1,2 have brought about many interesting programs anddevelopments in the area of technological literacy. Different schools developed programs,minors, and classes whose major goals are educating non-engineering workforce and non-engineering students to have deeper and functional understanding of technology, engineering,and develop life long competencies in understanding basis of technology. The premise has beento develop a national level awareness and education for technological literacy. Currently theeffort is synergistically advancing technological literacy as well as helping STEM and STEAMeducation activities.It is interesting that many of the instructors who are designing and teaching technologicalliteracy classes are also active faculty in engineering/technological departments. Consequently,they are teaching engineering and other technological competency as well as technologicalliteracy classes. The natural question is how would such experiences reflect on the faculty’sapproaches to teaching? The authors are also faculty in engineering who have been trying toadvance institutional level programs for technological literacy who also have have strongconnection to the national effort.This paper reviews some of the experiences, and reflects on how teaching technological literacyclasses and the developments of technological literacy program have and should reflect on ourapproaches of teaching engineering (and naturally visa versa.) In addition, the paper discusseshow some of the engineering education approaches have been used in technological literacyclasses. Finally, discussions on how these two approaches can interact and how our findings in 1technological literacy can help overall approaches are provided. Some of the questions,challenges, and possible approaches to enrich both efforts are presented and discussed.As many engineering programs are looking into the new curricular development, we hope someof these findings would shed light on ways that we can improve our engineering educationefforts as well. Perhaps this effort could help engineering educator to slowly transform ourapproaches to make a more synergetic effort in training engineering, technologist, andtechnologically aware workforce to face challenges of the future3-5.A conceptual approach to technological literacy and competencyFor the purpose of the technological literacy classes at our institutions, and in accordance to theresearch and developments at the national level we decided to follow the definitions anddescriptions that is defined in Technically speaking 1. One of the early actives in ourtechnological literacy classes is to read the first few chapters, discuss the ideas, and reflect on theissues for the first 2 to 3 chapters of this book. Students in non-engineering programs do find thedefinitions, discussion, and approach of the book very refreshing and use it through their classesand work in the undergraduate program. We see those references in their senior design andsenior thesis developments in our non-engineer programs. We have found out that thefreshman-engineering students also find these chapters of interest and their learning shows intheir reflective activities in their 3rd and 4th year portfolio or similar classes.Another important items that is emphasized in our technological literacy classes is providing aconceptual approach to understand engineering, engineering problem solving, and engineeringdesign. In our classes besides teaching basics that they need to know about engineering weengage the classes in what is the goal of engineers, what is the role of an engineer, and what arethe perspectives and problem solving approached that engineering utilizes. We do adopt some ofthe leading work by ASEE technological literacy group and follow the national developments inthis area 6-13.It has been shown by best practices that the practical approach in teaching technological conceptsto all patrons (engineering and non-engineering) is via a systems level approach4-6. This shouldstart with overall functional systems level breakdown of the concepts all the way to theappropriate details that are suitable for the level of students and their interest.The conceptual perspective that the functional and practical systems level approaches bringabout can be one of the most practical and integrating approaches for learning complex systems.This is proven by years of work in learning methodologies as well as efforts and developments inBloom’s Taxonomy4-5. Based on this premise the authors have adopted the same approach in allof the undergraduate classes thought to engineering and non-engineering students.Setting up the idea: Story of 3 classesFor the purpose of this study we have compared and contrasted the developments and findings ofthree classes. Two of the classes are offered to technical people (mostly engineering students.) 2The third class (which is a sequence of two classes) is a technological literacy class that isoffered to non-engineering students.First engineering class (EE1) is offered to engineering freshman students. This class isintroduction to electrical engineering and problem solving. Students from high school and sometransfer students from international as well as US colleges. This is a class for engineeringstudents. They do have algebra, trig, and many of them are in the first calculus classes. Thisclass covers some of the most important skills for engineers via a practical journey in some ofthe main points of engineering and in particular electrical engineering.The second class (combination of ENG 1 and ENG2) is offered to non-engineering students.Most of the students are primarily from college of design. Department of Industrial Design hasincluded this sequence in their curriculum their technical literacy requirements. They areconsidered a two parts of the same class from the Industrial Design curriculum. The first iscalled “From Thoughts to things” and the second class is called “How things work”. The firstterm covers how engineering works, and what are the critical points of engineering technology,design, the methodology, and of engineering process. The second class works on practical issuesof engineering and engineering basis of how things work. These classes do cover aspects ofengineering and engineering design, practical issues of electrical (Electromagnetism is alsoincluded), mechanical, civil and other engineering discipline as well as providing betterunderstanding of technology.The students of technological literacy classes do not enjoy algebra, trig, or any mathematicalmanipulation (they indicate it in their reflections during the first week of classes). In theirreflections they explain that they enjoy non-engineering approaches (or more clearly dislikeengineering problem solving and approaches) and that is why they decided to go to designcollege. Over 90% of the students in our technological literacy class are from Industrial Designprogram. It is interesting to note that about ¼ of the students in industrial design started inengineering programs but did not enjoy the math and physics aspect of the classes.Consequently, they left the program within one or 2 terms. However, they are interested indesign.For the purpose of some important discussions we will also focus on a third class. This class(EE3) is introduction to electromagnetism for non-electrical engineers. The students of this classare mostly engineering students in their 3rd and 4th years of different engineering fields (all butElectrical). In addition, we do have students from different science/technology backgroundssuch as meteorology, agronomy, bio-systems, industrial technology, and bioscience. Non-engineering students are less than 8% of the class. The third class (EE3) is brought to this studysince practical and pragmatic basis of electromagnetism are covered from engineeringperspective. Students are exposed to Maxwell’s equations; the main concepts of physics andelectromagnetism are covered and used to explain practical essence of applications ofelectromagnetism in engineering, in designing products, and everyday life applications. Studentsin this class do see integrals and differential forms of equations, wave equations, and othermathematical constructs but they do not need to use calculus. This is basically algebra andconceptual based class. It is heavy in concepts, physical understanding and applications, not so 3heavy in calculus. The class covers a broad topics starting from classical electromagnetism to themodern physics, special theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics. The concepts of quantumcomputing, and quantum communications are discussed at the end of this class. Students will beexposed to the foundational mathematics, but do not have to do calculus and vector calculus.This will allow the class discussions and development to be focused on application and practicalaspects of electromagnetism at all levels. Due to the success of our ENG1 and ENG2 sequence,in the last few years we are seeing 1 or 2 students form that sequence taking this class. They dostruggle with the mathematics but seems to enjoy the application part and seems to find theirways in the difficulties of the engineering approach.Some key observationsOne of the most difficult tasks in the technological literacy classes was to assess the skills thatwere developed by the students. This includes some back-of-the-envelope calculations, andunderstanding of some key concepts and connections of concepts. For examples relatedcalculations of circuits, ohms law, resistors in parallel and series, power, as well asunderstanding the basics of Faraday’s law and how it applies to transformers, motors, and howwe can use eddy currents to detect flaws.Our careful study and examinations showed that the students were capable of memorizing andmimicking related solutions, and at times a group could expand and show meaningfulconnections between the concepts. However, the memory was very short lasted. Very soon theywould not remember them and could no be used in later parts of the class. But our goal was forthe technological literacy students to have a longer memory of the important conceptual anduseful skills that they would develop in the classes.In order to help students, we decided to include systematic in-class individual as well as groupreflections based on short conceptual and important items. The goal is having students reflect,write what they understand, and tell explain what they learn in their own words. They arerequired to reflect on their thoughts as well as the results of their group discussions. Theinstructor will have to read and provide feedback to the students the next time. Our results showthat the most important aspects of this is to provide timely, encouraging, and careful feedbacks.For effectiveness, this has to be followed with few similar activities with reflections and thenperhaps a longer assignment. Our observations showed that the more students in thetechnological literacy classes reflected by drawing, making equations into special figures of theirown imagination, and by owning the equations and concepts, the more they could rememberthem. Of course this is well known and many active learning activities and cognitive psychologylearning ideas verify that. This has to be clearly communicated with the students.However, the question is how can this be used in the engineering classes? It is true that thetechnological literacy classes do not get too deep in many concepts but students seemed to havebetter connectivity. They also demonstrated special passion to follow up their learning and takeactions based on advancing their knowledge in their research and creating their project in upper 4level classes. This is interesting, in particular when one thinks about how they clearly did notlike the subject to begin with. So, we decided to see how we could bring the same concepts intothe engineering classes. There were challenges, but the effort showed successful results.Challenges and actions for engineering classesOur experience shows that due to the phenomena that is known as packed syllabi mostengineering students will forget many key issues and concepts unless they are creatively repeated4 to 5 times throughout the curriculum. Many faculty are aware of that and try to over come theissue by reviewing the material they need students to know. However, there is little connectionfrom the students’ perspective. The facts, equations, and manipulations are presented to thestudents with many different nomenclatures. The loads of the engineering classes are heavy andthere are many problem sets, laboratory reports and other activities during the weeks. Sostudents claim that they just move into the problem solving modes and make sure that they doget all that is to be done. This was true for the freshman engineering class (EE1) as well as forthe EM class (EE3).When we focused on reflective leaning and provided fast feedback connections of the materialand concepts with many iterations and constructive assignment activities, the students didremember and connect the concepts much better in the engineering classes. The key issues wereto encourage the engineering students to also draw, and reflect how they think. Many of themstill will think in terms of equations, but they were encouraged to use the equations as conceptualdrawings. After all equations (such as Faraday’s Law) are pictures, and each picture is worth a1000 words! The connection between reflections, writing, group reflections, drawing and activelearning did become very successful. It should be noted that by adding these activities weneeded to reduce the number of items that we cover in the typical syllabi.The approach has been successful in our freshman engineering, and EE3 classes. Consequently,in fall 2013 we tried the same approach in a senior class (High Speed Systems Engineering) andstudents did communicate a better-connected understanding and better integration of theirknowledge. We are in the process of analyzing the results more carefully.Students in the EE3 class do strive to get better understanding of the electromagnetic fields areas.They are encouraged to read more in-depth technical material and do major final projects. Theprojects seem to be very successful for students’ knowledge interactions. However, manystudents do believe that the class discussions, reflections, and connected homework are whatthey remember the most from the class.Interesting outcomes and findingsThere is couple of key issues that were found in our study 1. We need to encourage all students to have narratives for equations. While equations are figures and pictures, the narrative for each student is the most important items that really tell us if they understand the essence of the concept. This is true for the technological literacy students, as well they need to treat equations as figures and create their narrative. 5 2. Many engineering students can manipulate equations well, but when it comes to develop their narratives and show interconnections of the concepts they do not seem to be tooled appropriately. We have found out that those students do tend to forget the material much faster. 3. The development of narratives and understanding of the equations and their treatments need to be monitored regularly and fast feedbacks need to be provided to the students to help them correct their conceptual aspects of the narratives and keep progressing 4. Instructors need to provide the following: A set of key items that we would like them to know, problems that they need to be able to solve, concepts that they need to be able to talk about. This is essential. If we know what they need to accomplish, If it can come into a set of test-like questions and essays, and if that can be available to the students from the first day, the iterations to conceptualize the subjects as well as the skills to solve problems will be much more meaningful. It may sound that we are teaching for a test, but if the problems are conceptual with applications in mind that is fine. 5. Teaching engineering needs to be connected to the philosophical basis of engineering. We need to teach within the pragmatic and ethical framework of engineering13. The instructor needs to have strong connection to historical events and relevant applications. The concepts specifications, what is a good solution, practical approaches, and ways to deal with constraints are important aspects of engineering and engineering practice and design. This needs to be emphasized in our engineering as well as well as our technological literacy classes.Findings, reflections, and final remarksWhen teaching engineering to non-engineering students one realizes that the first item that needsto be taken away from the lectures are the focus on mathematical treatment of all subjects.While essential to engineering, mathematical concepts need to be developed constructively incorrect contextual and/or application oriented approaches. Our effort in teaching some of themost difficult concepts of engineering such as Faraday’s law to three classes, clearly indicate thatour goal should be 1. Repeat the major important concepts in creative and constructive narratives. 2. Have students make their own narrative, write, draw, and get comfortable with treating equations as figures that there is conceptual narrative associated with that. 3. Provide many applications, designs, and historical connections to concepts. For instance discussions of historical narratives of the difficulties that Michael Faraday and others had with this equation known as Faraday’s law, their important contributions, then the fascination of J.C. Maxwell with the equation together with how it ended up in the late 1800 and early 1900 to development of dynamo, motors, and power systems as well as being an inspiration for Einstein in his special theory of relativity can all be useful narratives for students to remember what this law is all about. 4. We cannot get too carried away with historical narratives. While important, they are not sufficient. Students need to really connect them to how things are done, how they are used in design, applications, and how by knowing them they will be enable do things and understand them. This is important for both engineering and non-engineering students. It is the level of the details and the focus of the activities that distinguishes the engineering and non-engineering students. 6Connecting the two technological literacy classes (ENG1 and ENG2) with this methodology hasresulted in a passion for the students to continue their own learning. Many of them, independentof any classes, decided to learn Arduino to do their 3rd and 4th year projects. They approachedour team about how they would learn about Arduinos and we just provided them someinformation on how they can learn. They did the rest on their own.It is not hard to imagine how such approach together with creative and constructive curricularconnectivity can help engineering students. In more than a few cases some of the technologicalliteracy students do take EE3 class, and do go through the steps with engineers. They seem to gothrough the difficult tasks as long as they have the hope to learn and be able to apply theirknowledge.What about integrating the students of these classes? We think this is a necessary future activity 1. Perhaps if we can mix the students of the engineering and technological literacy classes in special projects and or designs, we would benefit from the interaction and help each side find special angles and perspective that they were missing. 2. Our studies show that a select group of the technological literacy class students (the industrial design students) have performed well as team members in multidisciplinary senior design project. They bring about new questions that make challenging perspectives for the engineering students; they can help the background research and also help with iteration of the final project with their sketching, drawings and fresh verbalization. 3. When groups of engineering students joined the senior portfolio development of the industrial designers as well as special projects, the synergy was also beneficial to both sides. Such integration has been successful and encouraged15. In these cases the engineering students do bring a new perspective of design, implementation, and specification related constraints that is of great help to the technological literacy students. 4. When mixing the two different groups, each introduces a felt difficulty to the other team. This happens to be the first step and the seed of the inquiry based thinking. It results in discussion, debates, and collaborations that reaches beyond having just one of the groups working within their discipline. However, it needs to be monitored and mentored by mature faculty at the beginning.Finally, it should be noted that the goal of all these classes is to develop critical thinkingcapabilities and skills. There is a balance between doing, playing, engaging, learning, andrigorous drilling. While they are all important, too much focus on one is note desired.Depending on the level of the students and the class expectations our activities need to beadjusted.Teaching engineering and technology to non-engineers reminds us that we need to be conceptual,practical, pragmatic, and start from basics, build on them, and develop connections14. They needto be showing students how engineering is done from concepts to things. Sometime this is notclearly obvious in our engineering classes, since we as engineering educators value mathematicalmanipulations to be more important than conceptual development. But our students need to play,make things, fail, and be aware of the tools, be pragmatic, ethical, and understand the designaspects of engineering. Our engineering students need to be empowered and tooled to 7understand, manipulate, design, and enable progress that has direct relevance to people’s lives,needs, and advances societal and technological achievements. The non-engineering student needto understand the concepts, and be empowered to realize technological and methodologicalrelevant implications, understand who engineers are, and how they can work together to makethings happen.AcknowledgementThis work was supported by the National Science Foundation under awards: DUE 0837314 andDUE-0920164. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in thismaterial are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National ScienceFoundation.References 1. Pearson G., and A. T. Young, Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More about Technology. National Academies Press (2002). 2. Pearson G., and E. Garmire, Tech Tally: Approaches to Assessing Technological Literacy. National Augustine, N. (Chair), National Academies Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, D.C., National Academies Press (2005). 3. Duderstadt, J. J., Engineering for a Changing World: A Roadmap to the Future of Engineering Practice, Research, and Education. Ann Arbor, Michigan, University of Michigan Press, (2007). 4. Bloom, Benjamin S. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956). Published by Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA. Copyright (c) 1984 by Pearson Education. 5. Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., Krathwohl, D. R. Taxonomy of educational objectives: the classification of educational goals; Handbook I: Cognitive Domain New York, Longmans, Green, 1956. 6. Krupczak, J.J., “New Developments In Engineering For Nonengineers: Functional Analysis as a Framework for Understanding Technology,” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education 2009 Annual Conference, June 17-19, 2009, Austin, TX. 7. Krupczak, J. J., Bassett, G. “Work in progress: Abstraction as a vector: Distinguishing engineering and science,” fie, pp.1-2, 2012 Frontiers in Education Conference Proceedings, 2012. 8. Mina, M. “Work in Progress – Minor in Engineering Studies: Teaching Engineering Concepts to Non- Engineering Students, Proceedings of the 37th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, October 10 – 13, 2007, Milwaukee, WI. (2007). 9. Mina, M. “Work in Progress – Minor in Engineering Studies: The Role of Engineering Colleges in Providing Technological Literacy, Proceedings of the 38th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, October 22 – 25, 2008, Saratoga Springs, NY. (2008). 10. Mina, M. “Minors in Engineering Studies: Teaching Technology to Non-Engineers - First Results,” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, June 22 - 25, 2008, Pittsburgh, PA. (2008). 11. Gustafson, R. J. and B. C. Trott, “Two Minors in Technological Literacy for Non-Engineers,” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, June 15-18, 2009, Austin, TX. (2009). 12. Krupczak, J.J, M. Mina, R.J. Gustafson, and J. Young, “Development of Engineering-Related Minors for Non-Engineering Students, Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, June 20-23, 2010 Lexington, KY. (2010). 813. Gustafson, R. J., J.J. Krupczak, M. Mina, and J. Young, “Educational Objectives and Outcomes for Technological Literacy Programs at College Level, Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference, June 23-26, 2011 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (2011).14. Krupczak J.J, M. Mina, R. Gustafson, J. Young, “Minors as a Means of Developing Technological and Engineering Literacy for Non-Engineers,” Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education 2012 Annual Conference, June 10-13, 2012, Austin, TX15. Mina, M., Ringholz, D. “Integrating design and bridging activities of the engineering and the design college: Merging language cultures, creativities, and perspectives,” IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference 2013 , pp.1626- 162816. Mina, M. “Liberating engineering education: Engineering education and pragmatism,” IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference 2013, pp. 832- 837 9

Mina, M. (2015, June), Applications of Reflective Thinking Exercises in Both Technological Literacy and Standard Engineering Courses Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23565

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