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Before Engineering: How do students consider social and technical dimensions when solving complex problems early in their academic engineering career?

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Sociotechnical Thinking I: Classroom Experiences, Identity, and Theory

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Desen Sevi Ozkan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Desen is a postdoctoral researcher in the Tufts Center for Engineering Education Outreach and the Institute for Research on Learning and Instruction. She holds a Ph.D. in engineering education from Virginia Tech and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Tufts University. Her research interests are focused on interdisciplinary curriculum development in engineering education and the political, economic, and societal dimensions of curricular change.

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Kenyetta Anisah Rose Neal Akowa

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Engineering education has made strides towards integrating social context into engineering problems. Real-world problems are one way educators have sought to contextualize technical problems; however, these problems are usually in capstone or design courses that students take later in their engineering coursework. Instead, students learn technical skills as abstracted from real-world applicability and later are challenged to reintegrate their technical skills within the physical, social, and economic environment. In this study, we seek to understand how students answer a real-world problem at the start of their academic engineering degree; specifically, students in this study are first-year engineering students who have completed one fall semester of their engineering degree. We have collected qualitative responses from 206 students in a survey administered at the start of their spring semester. Students were asked to lay out the process they would undergo to prepare for a natural disaster event in the problem. We collected qualitative student responses from two cohorts in 2019 and 2020. The findings show that while students focus primarily on the technical aspects of the problem, as apparent in the type of data they seek to collect, many include considerations on the people impacted, government interventions, and cultural values. This study sheds light on the ways that students answer a real-world problem before learning technical problem-solving techniques. The insights from this study will be used to supplement the introductory engineering curriculum, so students are better positioned to integrate social, economic, and political insights with their technical competencies in solving real-world problems.

Ozkan, D. S., & Neal Akowa, K. A. R. (2021, July), Before Engineering: How do students consider social and technical dimensions when solving complex problems early in their academic engineering career? Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36739

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