August 9, 2021
August 9, 2021
August 21, 2021
This paper presents a novel, first-year interdisciplinary engineering experience that combines the history of science and technology studies, engineering and design fundamentals, and Jesuit ethical and moral inquiry. The course, Making the Modern World: Design, Ethics & Engineering (MMW), is open to all first-year students at Boston College (BC), satisfying Core requirements in both history and natural science. MMW also served as the pilot course for BC’s new Department of Human-Centered Engineering (HCE) and has been designed to satisfy select requirements for ABET accreditation. MMW includes three pedagogical components: lectures, labs, and weekly reflection sessions. Lecture classes explore the major branches of engineering and the history of science and technology since 1800, with an emphasis on sociotechnical systems and their relationship to gender, race, immigration, geography, and nationality. Labs include hands-on engineering modeling tasks as well as a multi-week human-centered design challenge focused on issues of access and accessibility on the BC campus. Reflection sessions draw on BC’s Jesuit traditions of student formation in which students grapple with the ethical dimensions of technology and engineering decision-making as well as reflect on how course content is influencing their personal and academic paths.
An exciting and essential pedagogical component of MMW is a series of interactive engineering case studies that model the important ways in which practicing and thinking about engineering connects with pressing social, environmental, regulatory, and political questions. These case studies include engineering failures from history like the Bhopal disaster and the Boeing 737 MAX as well as complex contemporary challenges like geoengineering and facial recognition technology. Students analyze the history of the events, engaging with primary sources from a variety of stakeholders, and reconstruct engineering design constraints, decisions, and outcomes. A primary aim in these case studies is to think about the contingency of engineering practices and their relationship to concepts of risk, unintended consequences, technological development, and corporate and state hierarchies. The Boeing 737 MAX case concluded with students role-playing key stakeholders, including Boeing engineers and executives, FAA regulators, pilots, and family members of those who died in the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accidents. The need to empathize with the varied stakeholder positions and then advocate on their behalf in class helps to showcase the complexity and ethical dimensions of real-world engineering problems.
MMW offers a model of a first-year engineering experience that grounds the practice and profession of engineering in its social, cultural, and historical contexts while offering students critical tools for ethically-informed engineering decision-making.
Krones, J., & Tonn, J., & Powell, R. C. (2021, August), Full Paper: An integrated engineering/history/ethics first-year experience at Boston College Paper presented at 2021 First-Year Engineering Experience, Virtual . https://peer.asee.org/38382
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