June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
15.1.1 - 15.1.17
“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
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