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Global Development Engineering And Its Discontents: An Interdisciplinary Project Based Course

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Global Issues in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.643.1 - 9.643.10



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Paper Authors

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Sadie Miller

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Donna Riley

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

Session 3661

Global Development Engineering and its Discontents: An interdisciplinary project-based course

Donna M. Riley and Sadie R. Miller

Smith College

Abstract Recent discussion in engineering has focused on the importance of preparing students for a global future, but rarely do we examine the profession’s role in globalization with a critical eye. An interdisciplinary project-based course and upper-level engineering elective, open to students in a variety of disciplines, seeks to initiate critical study of the technological, cultural, and policy aspects of international development. Rather than working from a common base of introductory knowledge, this course requires students to share sophisticated knowledge in their discipline with others from different backgrounds.

Developed through a collaboration between an engineering professor and a sociology student/alumna, and taught by the engineering professor in the spring semester of 2003 and 2004, the course wrestles directly with the differences in perspective that create gulfs in understanding between social scientists and engineers, and between development workers and intended beneficiaries of development projects. Students grapple early on in the course with the promises and limitations of technology for development, with the meanings of capitalism, colonialism, and globalization, and with the implications of engaging in development work from places of privilege.

Case studies in appropriate technology highlight the importance of communication, leveling power relationships, anticipating the social impacts of technology, and meaningful involvement of end users in technology development. Cases address topics including water quantity and quality, food production and preparation, and energy. Through class discussion and short assignments students analyze the role of technological, economic, cultural, and governmental factors in helping or hindering the success of development projects. Two design projects were developed that allow multidisciplinary teams to construct prototypes (of a slow-sand water filter and a child’s crutch) using hand tools and scavenged objects. Students experience in a very real way how technical, economic and social considerations are inextricably linked in design.

We are working to establish meaningful two-way relationships with communities both locally and abroad in hopes of creating a community-based project connected to the course. We discuss some of the concerns that have arisen to date and the ethical guidelines we believe are necessary for appropriate community collaborations. Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering

Miller, S., & Riley, D. (2004, June), Global Development Engineering And Its Discontents: An Interdisciplinary Project Based Course Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13707

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