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Engaging Engineering Students In A Design Based Service Learning Course Emphasizing Connections Between Technology And Society

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.468.1 - 15.468.10



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Paper Authors

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Robert Pierce Sweet Briar College

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Hank Yochum Sweet Briar College

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

Engaging Engineering Students in a Design-Based Service Learning Course Emphasizing Connections between Technology and Society Abstract

History has shown that there is a complex relationship between technological projects and the individuals that a technology is intended to serve. Failure to understand or anticipate the social environment in which a technology is implemented often leads to unintended consequences. If an engineer is to implement technology in a manner that is beneficial to society he/she must learn to consider the social environment in which the technology is to be used.

In this paper, we describe the design, implementation and assessment of a unique undergraduate course (Technology and Society: A Regional Perspective) that helps students to develop their own ideas regarding the relationship between technology and society. This course is a required component of the Engineering Science degree at Sweet Briar College, a women’s college in located in central Virginia. The program at Sweet Briar includes an emphasis on the idea of “socially-conscious engineering” and the course described in this paper is offered as part of our effort to recruit and retain students. Research has shown that the idea of “making a difference in the world with engineering” often resonates with high school students, especially women.

The content of the course consists of two major components. In the first, students are asked to read selected portions of the text for the course, Richard Pool’s “Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology.” These readings partly consist of case studies of technical projects that were profoundly affected by unanticipated societal factors. The second major component of the course is a “socially-conscious” design project. In 2009 this project consisted of the design and fabrication of specialized tooling and fixtures to assist developmentally-disabled employees at a local light-assembly plant. Students were engaged with these employees and their managers in order to get feedback on their designs and to develop an understanding of the unique problems that developmentally-disabled individuals face in performing their jobs.

In our paper, we discuss the implementation of the pedagogical approach described above in the context of the course learning goals. We also present assessment results in the form of evaluations of student work, post-course interviews, and student course evaluation data. Guided by these assessment tools, we suggest improvements in future versions of this course.


It is widely recognized that there is a need in engineering education for an increased emphasis on the role of the engineer within the larger society.1 Engineers are often accused of implementing technology for its own sake, with little consideration of sociological issues. This view is supported by numerous historical examples in which a lack of understanding of social forces has resulted in unanticipated, damaging effects of the use of technology.2 The importance of social considerations as a significant component of an undergraduate engineering education is embodied in ABET Outcome h, “…to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.”3 Despite the inclusion of this outcome in the ABET criteria, research by Vanderburg and Khan suggests that social issues are not given

Pierce, R., & Yochum, H. (2010, June), Engaging Engineering Students In A Design Based Service Learning Course Emphasizing Connections Between Technology And Society Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16759

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