June 24, 2017
June 24, 2017
June 28, 2017
As educators we train our students to view the world using a particular disciplinary lens. In engineering this means helping our students to “think” like engineers. We teach them to categorize and solve problems using a technically focused mindset. For instance, they learn the importance of using hard data to quantify success or failure. Other disciplines, especially in the social sciences, focus additional attention on normative and substantive issues. Students are taught the importance of developing contextual understanding and of recognizing that lived experiences generate different perceptions of reality. This variety in discipline specific thinking gives rise to a rich diversity of ways to interpret the world. These mindsets, however, can also act like silos that prevent the exchange of information. For example, while engineers share a common language, they often find it difficult to explain to a non-specialist how they reached a particular decision. As teams are rarely composed of individuals from a single discipline, this presents a fundamental challenge. How do teams collaborate effectively across disciplinary boundaries?
To prepare our students for this challenge, we are developing a multidisciplinary, team based course that will bring students together from two disparate disciplinary fields on our campus: the school of engineering and the school of peace studies. The course will be co-taught, with [omitted] representing engineering and [omitted] representing peace studies. The semester will be spent on a single project, designing a drone for social good. Drones come with an ideal combination of technical and ethical challenges that will force students from both schools to wrestle together with unfamiliar questions. One of our primary learning outcomes will be for this struggle to cultivate individual empathy across disciplinary boundaries. Put more practically, we want the students to understand how using alternative disciplinary frameworks changes their understanding of problems. During the semester small teams (4-6 students) will each 1) build a quadcopter drone using the open source technology platform ardupilot, and 2) design and build a unique payload for the drone. The course assignments involve designing and building the device (a clear engineering challenge) with the more conceptual work of planning for its integration into pro-social organizational processes (a clear peace and justice challenge). To facilitate this exploration, we have designed the course to minimize lectures and instead use class time for conversations and collaboration. This will be done through a combination of group discussions, team exercises, and collaborative workshops.
This paper, submitted as a work-in-progress, presents the current state of our course development. We discuss our learning outcomes, describe our pedagogical approaches, and identify areas of concern associated with this approach to multidisciplinary engineering education. By providing a detailed framework of the class as currently designed, we hope to solicit meaningful feedback from the multidisciplinary engineering community before teaching the course in the fall of 2017.
Hoople, G. D., & Choi-Fitzpatrick, A. (2017, June), Engineering Empathy: A Multidisciplinary Approach Combining Engineering, Peace Studies, and Drones Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. https://peer.asee.org/28251
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