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Design For Society … An Innovative Multidisciplinary Course For Engineering Technology

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.132.1 - 2.132.11

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Paper Authors

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Andrew S. Lau

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

Session 2344

Design for Society – An Innovative Multidisciplinary Course for Engineering Technology

Andrew S. Lau Penn State Harrisburg


This paper is an overview of an innovative multidisciplinary course that has been offered since the spring of 1996 at Penn State Harrisburg. In addition to reviewing the nature of the course as it is being taught in spring 1997, the paper follows the development of the course and the author’s interest in the broad area of engineering for a better future. The course is innovative for a combination of factors: • It goes beyond ‘green engineering’ to discuss ethics, diverse cultural critiques of technology, and the politics of technology. • It is a technical elective and requires a significant group design project. • It qualifies as a ‘Diversity-Focused’ course and considers three specific cultural groups and their attitudes toward technology: feminists, the Amish, and Native Americans. • It makes use of collaborative groups throughout the course and requires considerable writing and speaking assignments.


The course evolved from several other courses taught by the author since 1984, including an Introduction to Energy Technology course which made use of Jeremy Rifkin’s Entropy1 and Fritjof Capra’s The Turning Point2. Although trained as an engineer, the author was becoming increasingly more aware of the connections between technology and society. Involvement in the solar energy field since 1977 also made it clear that engineering activities have direct and indirect effects on the environment, standard of living, and quality of life. In many ways, solar energy technologies represented a new way, an alternative way, of meeting the energy needs of modern society. New questions raised by workers in the alternative energy field were: “What do we really need as a society?,” “Where do we want to go?,” and “How do we get there?” A major concern was that technology was developing with very little concern about its impact on the environment and on people’s lives. In lots of ways it appeared that technology was not controlled by people anymore, but had taken on its own autonomony, consistent with Jacque Ellul’s landmark thesis3.

In 1990, Penn State Harrisburg (PSH) offered, in concert with the Pennsylvania Energy Office, an experimental course titled Sustainability: Technology and Public Policy Dimensions. This colloquium-style course brought together the technological expertise of the two organizations and brought in experts from all over the world.4 Around this time, PSH faculty were discussing

Lau, A. S. (1997, June), Design For Society … An Innovative Multidisciplinary Course For Engineering Technology Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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