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Critical Perspectives on Teaching Design in First-year Engineering

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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

Working Against Unjust Social Forces

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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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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Avneet Hira Boston College

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Dr. Avneet Hira is an Assistant Professor in the Human-Centered Engineering Program at Boston College. She received her PhD in Engineering Education and MS in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University, and BE in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College. Her scholarship is motivated by the fundamental question of how engineering and technology can support people in living well in an increasingly engineered world. Her research focuses on affordances of technology, humanistic design, and engineering epistemology to promote purpose and connection in engineering education. In her work, she partners with students and educators (middle school to undergraduate), youth and their families, community organizations, artisans, makers, designers, and technologists. Currently, she is part of a team setting up the Human-Centered Engineering program at Boston College. 

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Title: Critical perspectives on teaching first-year engineering

Keywords: First-year engineering, data science design, feminist, anti-racist, anti-deficit, sociotechnical

Purpose: Education in engineering and data science perpetuates the perception that technology is neutral and that science is objective. However, to engineer is to bring science and technology into a society filled with competing economic, ethical, and political influences. Students are woefully unprepared to understand the impact that their seemingly neutral technical decisions have in this societal context. In light of ongoing racial injustices and increasing environmental concerns, we find it necessary to reintegrate this context into engineering design and data science education.

The first-year engineering courses offered as mandatory courses in undergraduate engineering programs across the United States serve as an introduction for students to engineering design and data science in the context of their professional formation as engineers. In this paper, we present perspectives on the teaching of core concepts taught in such first-year engineering courses from feminist, anti-racist, and anti-deficit practices in the fields of design and computer science.

Approach: Grounded in prior work on synthesizing core concepts taught in first-year engineering courses like the taxonomy for introduction to engineering courses (Reid, Reeping & Spigola, 2018), we offer perspectives and exemplars on equitable teaching practices for these standard concepts. We do this by drawing upon recent and relevant work from fields parallel to engineering, such as critical data studies within science, technology, and society, that offer critical perspectives on concepts taught in first-year engineering courses. For example, education in design can be refocused to center justice for marginalized communities by dismantling structural inequalities and achieving ecological survival (Costanza-Chock, 2018; 2020; Noel, 2016). Education in data science can cultivate technical competencies as well as intersectional feminist and anti-racist frameworks (D’Ignazio and Klein, 2016; 2020; Benjamin, 2019).

Practical Implications: This paper could inform educators and instructional teams who curate and redesign first year experiences for undergraduate engineering students, and additional courses that introduce engineering students to the fundamental concepts of design and data science.

Scholarly implications: This work offers a pedagogical resource that shows best practices for integrating the technical and social dualism in engineering education. We contend that without this sociotechnical integration in engineering courses, engineering education will leave students to reinforce existing racial and environmental injustices rather than providing a critical understanding of the social, political, and economic context in which they will be engineers.

References: Benjamin, R. (2019). Race after technology: Abolitionist tools for the new jim code. Social Forces. Costanza-Chock, S. (2018). Design Justice: towards an intersectional feminist framework for design theory and practice. Proceedings of the Design Research Society. Costanza-Chock, S. (2020). Design justice: Community-led practices to build the worlds we need. MIT Press. D’Ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2016, October). Feminist data visualization. In Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities (VIS4DH), Baltimore. IEEE. D'Ignazio, C., & Klein, L. F. (2020). Data feminism. MIT Press. Noel, L. A. (2016, June). Promoting an emancipatory research paradigm in Design Education and Practice. In Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference. Brighton, UK(pp. 27-30). Reid, K., Reeping, D., & Spingola, E. (2018). A taxonomy for introduction to engineering courses. The International journal of engineering education, 34(1), 2-19.

Ozkan, D. S., & Hira, A. (2021, July), Critical Perspectives on Teaching Design in First-year Engineering Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36879

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