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Faculty Interpretations of Sociotechnical Thinking in their Classrooms: Techniques for Integration

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Sociotechnical Thinking II: Interpretation, Curricular Practices, and Structural Change

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count

19

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/37181

Download Count

53

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Paper Authors

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Jenifer Blacklock University of Colorado - Boulder

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Dr. Jenifer Blacklock is the director of the CU Boulder and Western Colorado University partnership program for both Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science degree programs.

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Kathryn Johnson Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0001-9771-7718

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Kathryn Johnson is a Professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the Department of Electrical Engineering. In the Fall 2011, she was a visiting researcher at Aalborg University in Denmark, where she collaborated on wind turbine control research and experienced Aalborg’s Problem-Based Learning method. She has researched wind energy control systems across a range of areas since 2002. Partially inspired by her time at Aalborg U. she has applied experiential learning techniques in several wind energy and control systems classes and began engineering education research related to social justice and sociotechnical thinking in engineering starting in Fall 2014.

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Randy Cook Colorado School of Mines

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Randy is a graduate level student at Colorado School of Mines and recently graduated from Mines with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. His current focus is on robotics, manufacturing, and automation in manufacturing in the field of Mechanical Engineering.

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Natalie Ann Plata

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Natalie is a Chemical Engineering undergraduate student at Colorado School of Mines. She is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in Chemical Engineering with a focus on nanoparticles and thorium reactors.

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Stephanie Claussen San Francisco State University

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Stephanie Claussen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at San Francisco State University. She previously spent eight years as a Teaching Professor in the Engineering, Design, and Society Division and the Electrical Engineering Department at the Colorado School of Mines. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005 and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Her current engineering education research interests include engineering students' understanding of ethics and social responsibility, sociotechnical education, and assessment of engineering pedagogies.

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Abstract

Engineers consider both social and technical elements within the problem spaces in which they work [1][2][3]. Yet, engineering education often better prepares students to address technical issues within well-defined problem spaces, with relatively less emphasis placed on social or sociotechnical elements [4][5][6]. Traditional technically-focused curricula might therefore foster the habit of solving fully-formed problems that require no problem-definition stage including community and other stakeholders [5][6]. This disparity can lead to negative consequences for the profession and society (for example, suboptimal solutions) as well as for engineering professionals, who may feel ill-prepared to address sociotechnical elements of their professions [3] (Trevelyan, 2014). For example, [7] Cech (2014) found that engineering students become more disengaged with public well-being during their time in engineering programs, suggesting that these programs’ separation of technical and social impact students’ impressions of their own futures as engineering practitioners. A key element of our research is that new concepts are therefore needed to help engineering students develop sociotechnical thinking, or the ability to identify, address, and account for “the interplay between relevant social and technical factors in the problem to be solved” [8]. For a more in-depth motivation of the need for sociotechnical integration in engineering education, we refer readers to [8].

Developing engineering courses that address sociotechnical thinking can be challenging, especially for faculty who were themselves trained in more traditional, technically-focused curricula. Some faculty within the U.S. have integrated sociotechnical thinking or similar concepts within their classes, though the practice is not widespread. For example, Huff [4] and [9] [Blinded] have augmented engineering classes with social justice concepts, and Riley [10] [#] and have published books that can be used as a guide for doing so in many disciplines. A consideration of “sociotechnical” from a human organizations perspective is described by Subrahmanian [11] for a design engineering class. Engineering has been introduced as a sociotechnical process in a new introductory class described in [12] . Hoople and Choi-Fitzpatrick have recently published a new text [13] designed to foster sociotechnical integration into engineering classes. Other examples exist, but such cases do not represent the bulk of engineering education within the U.S.

As evidenced by these programs, sociotechnical thinking is gradually emerging as an important theme within engineering education. More faculty are seeking to implement these concepts in their classrooms. In this paper, we therefore seek to share insight from our team’s experiences with sociotechnical integrations and our perceptions of the impacts of these integrations on our students, including how we can use our experiences for formative classroom purposes.

This paper presents the results of a qualitative analysis of faculty reflection logs prepared by two instructors who implemented sociotechnical thinking in their classrooms. As has been argued by [14] Brent and Felder (1992), writing and thinking, as is required for these logs, provokes thoughts and observations that would otherwise be lost. Faculty reflection logs may therefore offer a formative tool for deepening instructors’ understanding of their students’ sociotechnical thinking. In addition, the insight gained from analyzing these reflection logs can serve as a guide to other faculty looking to implement sociotechnical thinking in their classrooms and curricula.

The research presented in this paper is focused on the following question:

RQ1. In what ways do faculty share similar and different insights with respect to the integration of sociotechnical thinking within their engineering classes as reflected through faculty reflection logs?

Blacklock, J., & Johnson, K., & Cook, R., & Plata, N. A., & Claussen, S. (2021, July), Faculty Interpretations of Sociotechnical Thinking in their Classrooms: Techniques for Integration Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37181

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