Asee peer logo

"Brief Encounter:" A Reflection On Williams Proposals For The Engineering Curriculum

Download Paper |


2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Liberal Education for 21st Century Engineering

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1.1 - 15.1.17



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


John Heywood Trinity College Dublin

visit author page

Professorial Fellow Emeritius of Trinity COllege Dublin (Ireland. Formerly Professor of Education and Chair Department of Teacher Education.Has published over 50 papers on topics related to engineering and technological education and several books. His book "Engineering Education; Research and Development in Curriculum and Instruction" received the best reseach publication award of division i (professional) of the American Educational Research Association in 2005. previously he has been awarded a premium of the Education, Science and Technology division of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and two gold medals and a silver medal from the Junior Institution of Engineers.
In addition to a doctorate he has Masters degrees in engineering education, and letters. he is a fellow of the Chartered Management Institute

visit author page

Download Paper |

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

“Brief Encounter:” A Reflection on William’s Proposals for the Engineering Curriculum Abstract

In 2003 Rosalind Williams argued a case for a new approach to the engineering curriculum. She envisaged that there would be a convergence between technological and liberal arts education that would be “deep, long term and irreversible.” Although her study seems to have had little general effect so far, its sentiments are to be found in important policy documents such as ABET 2000, the Carnegie Report on Educating Engineers and the National Academy’s Engineer 2020. Given that educational proposals such as these have surfaced from time to time during the last century, in Britain as well as the US, it is appropriate to ask if they will be yet another “brief encounter” with the system as has been the fate of other educational innovations.

An account of Williams’s thesis is related to recent US reports on the future of engineering education. Minor changes take place all the time and there are well-founded strategies for dealing with such change. Major change requires different strategies. Five factors that inhibit and enhance change are briefly considered. Any change that is envisaged has to take into account what many consider is an overloaded curriculum for this reason some form of integrated study is likely to be necessary. Some aspects of curriculum integration are considered and illustrated. It is argued that a liberal education (as defined) is more likely to be achieved through curriculum integration. While the principles are general, the particular responses of individuals and organizations to them will be dependent on the educational culture they inhabit.

Williams thesis and the case for curriculum reform

In 2002 Rosalind Williams published a book with the title ReTooling: A Historian Confronts Technological Change.1 Her general thesis was accompanied by illustrations from the history of MIT, where as a social historian, she is Director of MIT’s program in Science, Technology and Society. Subsequently in 2003 she published a short but controversial paper in The Chronicle of Higher Education with the intriguing title “Education for the profession formerly known as engineering.” 2

Williams argues that engineering has lost its identity because it “has evolved into an open-ended profession of everything in a world where technology shades into science, art, management with no strong institutions to define an overarching mission”.

The consequence of this for engineering education is that there are numerous forces that pull engineering in different directions-“toward science, toward the market, toward design, toward systems and toward socialization”. Within each specialization these demands are reflected in increasing demands on the curriculum. As Williams puts it each one adds a log to the curricula jams. Moreover, the trend to cram more and more into programmes “runs in exactly the wrong direction,” and this is likely to reduce the number

Heywood, J. (2010, June), "Brief Encounter:" A Reflection On Williams Proposals For The Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16445

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015