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Engineering a Humanities Education: Learning Like an Engineer in a Theatre Elective

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Communication as Performance

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.609.1 - 26.609.14



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Paper Authors


Lydia Wilkinson University of Toronto Orcid 16x16

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Lydia Wilkinson is a lecturer in the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Toronto, where she teaches courses on written, oral and visual communication. She has a Bachelor of Education, an MA in Drama and Performance Studies, and is pursuing a PhD in Drama that focuses on the intersections of engineering and theatre.

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Engineering a Humanities Education: Learning like an Engineer in a Theatre ClassroomRepresenting Science on Stage, an elective course for engineers at the [university nameredacted], provides students in this faculty with an opportunity to create and engage in theatre.Over one semester, students read, analyze and perform scenes from three plays about science.Their engagement with the material is supported through activity-based seminars and studioclasses focusing on the development of practical performance skills. While the course demandsthat students step out of their comfort zone to take risks in an unfamiliar discipline, it does so inan environment that is familiar: an engineering classroom populated by their peers and taught bylecturers from within the faculty.The administration and content of the class straddles the humanities and engineering, and as suchprovides a unique space in which to study the intersection of science and the arts; itscomparatively homogenous population (students come from a range of disciplines but are allenrolled in engineering) affords insights not only into what engineering students gain fromhumanities immersion, but also what their engineering approaches may bring to this field.Kolb’s learning styles inventory (LSI) provides one useful framework through which tounderstand the ways in which engineers learn. Kolb classifies learners along two basicdimensions of abstract-concrete and active-reflective learning to generate four profiles: theconverger, diverger, assilimator and accommodator. At opposite ends of this spectrum areconvergers and divergers, exemplified by careers in engineering and the arts respectively. Theprimary difference between the two is a belief in single versus multiple answers and thestrategies that they take to arrive at these; while Kolb’s engineer would typically use a deductive-reasoning approach, his arts worker might use creative problem solving [1]. While Kolb’sdefinitions provide a useful general profile through which to consider learners in bothdisciplines, deeper analysis can identify specific behaviours and strategies that are commensuratewith these types. Within the Representing Science on Stage classroom students often applylearning strategies from their engineering background to this new field; some of these strategieswork to enable the type of convergence that may be typical of this learner, while others providepractical methods or models to breakdown complex or multivalent problems into manageableparts.The recent addition of a performance analysis assignment provides a vehicle to more formallyexamine the strategies that our students transfer into this field. Following their first sceneperformance, students are asked to record their development process, and then to evaluate itseffectiveness. Within their analysis they are asked to discuss how they generated strategies, howthey applied these strategies, and how this application translated to the performance event. Thispaper will consider student responses to this task in order to identify approaches that studentsadapt and/or develop as they move between the engineering and arts disciplines.[1] Kolb, David. The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. Boston: McBer, 1976.

Wilkinson, L. (2015, June), Engineering a Humanities Education: Learning Like an Engineer in a Theatre Elective Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23947

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