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In Search of Integration: Mapping Conceptual Efforts to Apply STS to Engineering Education

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education Division Technical Session 11

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Kathryn A. Neeley University of Virginia

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Kathryn Neeley is Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society in the Engineering & Society Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. She is a past chair of the Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division of ASEE and is particularly interested in the role of liberal education in developing engineering leaders.

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Caitlin Donahue Wylie University of Virginia Orcid 16x16

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Caitlin D. Wylie is an assistant professor of Science, Technology and Society in the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science.

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Bryn Seabrook University of Virginia

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As David Edge points out in his introduction to the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (Sage, 1995), the field of Science, Technology, and Society (STS) is a diverse enterprise that developed in response to a heterogeneous set of desires ranging from a more rational basis for science policy to the democratization of science and the reform of engineering and science education. In this paper, we focus on STS as it can be applied in the practice of engineering to foster both socially responsible and commercially successful innovation. In an academic context, applying STS to engineering practice frequently takes the form of integrating a sociotechnical systems perspective into educational enterprises such as the major design experience mandated by ABET. Leaving aside the practical challenges of such integration, we focus here on what we learn about STS when we teach it to upper-level engineering students and expect them to use STS frameworks and approaches to inform the design and research that they undertake as part of their engineering education. We draw on two sources of evidence from which such lessons can be extrapolated: (1) the discourse of ASEE as captured in the PEER document repository and (2) our experience in mentoring hundreds of students in all engineering disciplines through the process of using STS perspectives and research to inform their major design experience. Quantitative analysis of papers suggests that STS entered the discourse of ASEE in the period from 2004-2007, with another burst of activity in 2010-2011 (2011 being the year that “Engineering and Society” was added to “Liberal Education” to create LEES) and culminating in the highest level of discussion in 2017 and 2018. Our experience of guiding engineering students in the application of STS to their major design experience leads us to conclude that the ethical practice of engineering requires an understanding of the contingent and usually convoluted sequence of events through which technological innovations translate (or not) into both desired outcomes and unintended negative consequences. In other words, STS perspectives and analytical frameworks are essential for connecting the dots from intent to innovation to impacts.

Neeley, K. A., & Wylie, C. D., & Seabrook, B. (2019, June), In Search of Integration: Mapping Conceptual Efforts to Apply STS to Engineering Education Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32954

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