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Don’t Let the Computer Take Your Job – a Framework for Rethinking Curriculum

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


Alan Cheville Bucknell University

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Alan Cheville studied optoelectronics and ultrafast optics at Rice University, followed by 14 years as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University working on terahertz frequencies and engineering education. While at Oklahoma State, he developed courses in photonics and engineering design. After serving for two and a half years as a program director in engineering education at the National Science Foundation, he took a chair position in electrical engineering at Bucknell University. He is currently interested in engineering design education, engineering education policy, and the philosophy of engineering education.

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John Heywood Trinity College Dublin

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John Heywood is professorial Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin- The University of Dublin. he is a Fellow of ASEE and Life Fellow of IEEE. he is an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Ireland. He has special interest in education for the professions and the role of professions in society. He is author of Engineering Education. Research and Development in Curriculum and Instruction; The Assessment of Learning in Engineering Education; The Human Side of Engineering, and Empowering Professional Teaching in Engineering. Together with co-author Michael Lyons he received the best paper award of the TELPHE Division in 2018, and also the Division's Meritorious Award.

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Over the last decade there have been an increasing number of discussions on how information technology (IT) impacts the practice and structure of higher education. There are strong views on this subject with some claiming that higher education as currently defined is ripe for disruption while others claim that since the functions of the university have persisted for nearly a millennium claims of disruption are overblown. Since individual beliefs on the function or purpose of a university and the extent to, and rate at, which advances in IT will continue to be made are integral to this conversation it helps to clarify what aspects of IT align with universities functions.

It is proposed that the functions performed by a university form a framework that can serve as a lens to examine the changes stimulated by IT. The proposed framework is defined by four separate functions. A university’s learning function is based on enabling students to acquire necessary knowledges and skills. Its societal function prepares students to engage with each other in community as well as citizens who participate meaningfully in civic life. The economic function ensures students and faculty contribute meaningfully to a region’s economy and individuals get adequate return on their investment in education. Finally a university’s moral function gives individuals the guidance and experience to act in ways that contribute to a common good. Taken together these functions contribute to holistic development of the individual. It is proposed that this Learning-Societal-Economic-Moral (L-S-E-M) framework can be used to describe potential impacts of IT on university functions. In other words it provides a framework to discuss the aims which a university education should seek to achieve as pressures rise to shift its functions from humans to computers.

As digital technologies are increasingly adopted in education and cost pressures on institutions grow each of these elements will be affected. Due to new ubiquitous platforms, lower costs, and wider acceptance of online credentials both the learning and economic functions will be most strongly affected. However even within the learning function elements some skills are not easily shifted to online platforms and acquisition of tacit knowledge changes. Motivation, relationships, and new research from neuroscience on brain plasticity will affect to what extent the learning functions can be adequately supported in fully on-line courses. Similarly since the societal and moral functions require mentorship and community, shifting these functions to online platforms is more difficult. The L-S-E-M framework provides a useful lens to re-envision the purpose of a university and determine which functions should be maintained, which modified, and which further developed. Additionally the framework suggests possible alternatives for re-envisioning both curriculum and the partnerships universities need to pursue to adapt to the affordances and challenges posed by information technology.

Cheville, A., & Heywood, J. (2019, June), Don’t Let the Computer Take Your Job – a Framework for Rethinking Curriculum Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32681

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