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Engineering Literacy: A Component Of Liberal Education

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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

Technological Literacy and the Educated Person

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.491.1 - 15.491.14

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Paper Authors

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John Heywood Trinity College Dublin

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

Engineering Literacy: A Component of Liberal Education Abstract

In “The Idea of a University” Newman proposed a theory of liberal of education that had as one of its primary aims “the enlargement of mind” which is coincident today with what many educators call “the development of the whole person.” It is becoming clear that as knowledge has become increasingly fractionalised that there is a need for an education beyond school that re-asserts the primacy of “enlargement of mind” as a goal of education. Such an education is necessary in the sense that it should help the student to “connect views of the old with the new;” indeed with the current explosion of knowledge one might add the new with the new. Its purpose is to give “insight into the bearing and influence of each part upon every other, without which there could be no whole […] It is knowledge not only of things but of their mutual relations.” This insight is achieved through a comprehensive or universal knowledge. It is a theory that is as much about the development of skills in the cognitive and affective domains as it is about the acquisition of knowledge.

It is argued that a person who has no perception of the contribution that engineering can make to our understandings of behaviour and society is not liberally educated. At some stage (high school/university) they should experience the study of engineering literacy.

It is argued that the goal of engineering literacy will not be achieved without some missionary activity and curriculum innovation. The process of curriculum innovation is discussed briefly. Engineering literacy is defined and a model used in the training of teachers for engineering studies in schools described. The aim of the course for which they were prepared is defined and the implications for the curriculum and instruction summarised.

There is no single course design and much depends on the educational culture, the aims to be achieved, and the motives of those who want to achieve them. The paper begins with a brief general introduction to the subject that has focused historically on the introduction of technological literacy in schools.


In 1959 the scientist and novelist C. P. Snow gave a controversial lecture on “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution”.1 It generated a great deal of heat and not much light. He argued that in England there was a great divide between what might be described as a culture informed by the humanities and a culture that was informed by the sciences, this to the detriment of national development. Supporters of the two cultures thesis would argue that schools were to blame for shortages in the supply of students to science and technology studies in universities, because they did not emphasise these subjects in the curriculum. Shortages, they say, that have persisted to the present.

Some authorities argue that a broadly based school curriculum through to university entry would solve the problem. They have in mind curricula of the type offered in Scotland and Ireland2. Attempts to resolve this issue seem to have been half-hearted

Heywood, J. (2010, June), Engineering Literacy: A Component Of Liberal Education Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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