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Designing an Engineering Computer Instructional Laboratory: Working with the Panopticon

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Technical Courses and Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Shehla Arif University of Mount Union

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I am a thermal-fluids sciences educator. My doctoral and postdoctoral work is on experimental fluid dynamics of bubbles. My emphasis is interdisciplinary moving between mechanical engineering, geology, and biology. I acquired PhD from Northwestern University, IL and a post-doc at McGill University, Canada. I am passionate about integrating Engineering education with liberal arts studies. To that end, I am interested in embedding social justice and peace studies into engineering curriculum.

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Teaching takes place in a physical space with configured interactions of the instructor with the students. The traditional mode of education presupposes the instructor as an authority “depositing” knowledge into the “clean-slates” (students’ minds), who in turn regurgitate that deposited (memorized) knowledge in assessments. This is described as the banking concept of education by Freire [1]. This process is facilitated by designs of instructional space that enable surveillance, discipline, and control in alignment with instructor’s authoritative role, best exemplified by Foucault’s analysis of Bentham’s Panopticon [2]. Recent research in the science of learning and teaching has demonstrated active learning as more effective in absorption and retention of knowledge [3]. Active learning centers the student and occurs on a spectrum ranging from small interactive interludes in the lecture to inductive, problem-based, and cooperative learning over the course of a semester. It involves the instructor assuming the role of a facilitator with more active and supportive physical movement among the students thus disrupting the function of the panopticon. If the goal of the instructor is to empower students to engage in critical thinking and reflective action for social justice, then the active teaching methods are encompassed by liberative or engaged pedagogies. The classroom space design needs to accommodate a wide range of instructional approaches [4]. We encountered this problem while designing an instructional computer laboratory space for undergraduate engineering students. Among eight faculty members, four expressed strong preference for a more traditional teacher-centered instructional space design, while two deemed facilitation of collaborative student interactions paramount, and two found themselves located towards the center of the spectrum. Feedback from students also favors a traditional lecture room. We approached this social and spatial organization problem as an engineering design problem. We interviewed each faculty member individually to gather their feedback on six different layouts ranging from lecture-based to collaborative instructional space designs. From these interviews, we sifted the instructional needs from general dislikes of certain layouts. These instructional needs served as our design constraints. We visited a variety of instructional spaces on-campus and interviewed Information Technology staff who conducts computer trainings for different audiences. We also communicated with the Facilities staff to grasp physical constraints that limit certain layouts. This allowed us to brainstorm design ideas that meet opposing instructional needs. Finally, we proposed a design to facilitate both teacher-centered as well as collaborative learning environment. This design was favored by all faculty members in our second round of feedback. We shall share various space layouts and discuss how these layouts enact or disrupt the panopticon by supporting various learning environments [5]. We shall present the instructional needs corresponding to various teaching approaches. We shall analyze our proposed final design to evaluate its efficacy vis-a-vis the two ends of the spectrum – the banking model and the liberative pedagogies. We shall also present student feedback after they had a chance to use the new computer laboratory. We posit that while this new design maintains the panopticon, it allows the possibility of dismantling it. Within current structures of engineering education, we consider this a step forward.

Arif, S. (2020, June), Designing an Engineering Computer Instructional Laboratory: Working with the Panopticon Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34404

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