June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.350.1 - 14.350.15
Complex Systems: What Are They and Why Should We Care?
Key Words: Complex systems, emergence, adaptability, flexibility
Recently, engineering education research has begun to implicitly employ a discourse of complex systems with terms such as emergence, adaptability and flexibility permeating the discussions. This paper proposes that complex systems offer a unifying perspective for engineering education researchers and will help the discipline move towards a better understanding of the enterprise of engineering education. To explore this issue, the authors will first describe the major characteristics of complex systems and then evaluate whether engineering educators are indeed describing the attributes of engineering education systems as aligning with those of complex systems. Illustrative examples will be provided that show how the framework of complex systems promotes a better understanding of the some of the discrepancies and tensions within the discourse of the engineering education community. This preliminary document analysis research project involves a review of editorials in engineering education journals published in 2008 to determine whether these contributions by the leaders in the engineering education research community are pointing towards a need for a complex systems approach to engineering education practice and research. Specifically, this research explores the validity of the following hypothesis: complex systems provide a needed unifying perspective for engineering education. The preliminary research analysis answers the following research question: To what degree doleaders in engineering education intentionally or implicitly use concepts and language of complex systems when describing current and desired engineering educational systems? While this research is focusing on whether the engineering education is indeed a complex system, future research will be needed that takes a complex systems approach through developing methodologies and models so that researchers can begin to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of the engineering educational system and how to begin to facilitate changes in that complex system in practice.
Context and Background
Since the publication of the Green Report in 19961 there has been a strong push within engineering education practice and research to better prepare engineering graduates for the socio- technical world in which engineers are embedded. Surprisingly, this drive to better align engineering education with the socio-technical world began many decades earlier with the Carnegie Foundation's 1918 publication of A Study of Engineering Education2. In spite of the effort in recent years to operationalize the student learning of the necessary competencies (e. g. through ABET outcomes3) there is a disconnect between what students learn in engineering, what we measure that they learn, and what they ought to be learning. This could be partially due
Kellam, N., & Walther, J., & Babcock, A. (2009, June), Complex Systems: What Are They And Why Should We Care? Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. https://peer.asee.org/5703
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