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Integrating Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and Computational Methods at a Polytechnic Institution: Experiences of Interdisciplinary Course Designs for Critical Thinking

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

The Interdisciplinary Nature of Engineering

Tagged Divisions

Multidisciplinary Engineering and Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.775.1 - 24.775.35



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Paper Authors


Mehmet Vurkaç Oregon Institute of Technology

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Mehmet Vurkaç is an assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy (EERE) at Oregon Institute of Technology, where he has also taught courses in decision-making, samba percussion, math, and machine learning.

Vurkaç earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering in December 2011 at Portland State University, with research at the confluence of machine learning, musicology, information theory, philosophy of science, and music information retrieval. His current research is applying machine learning and signal processing to electrical power distribution, funded by an Oregon BEST grant, as well as continued research in computational ethnomusicology.

Between 1994 and 2010, Vurkaç taught in the Music Department at Whitman College (Sound Synthesis), and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Portland State University (all courses in first- and second-year digital and analog circuits) as an adjunct, as well as co-teaching as a "grad mentor" in the University Studies program at Portland State University (Popular Culture, African Studies, Renaissance Studies, Environmental Sustainability, and Knowledge, Rationality and Understanding), and assisting several other courses in the same program (such as Global Environmental Change and Healthy People, Healthy Places).

Vurkaç also served as a rubric and assignment-design specialist for the President’s Assessment Initiative at Portland State University from 2002 to 2006, and as assessment coordinator of EERE at Oregon Tech, was the assessment lead for the initial accreditation of the new Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

Since 2010, Vurkaç has been teaching CMOS VLSI Digital-IC Design, Machine Learning, Communication Systems, Electricity and Magnetism, Electronics I, Circuits I, II, III, and all associated labs, as well as circuits for non-majors and samba percussion.

Address: 3201 Campus Dr., PV 2, Klamath Falls, OR, 97601, USA
Phone: 503-477-3915

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Integrating the Classics, Cognitive Science, and Computational Methods at a Polytechnic Institution: Experiences of an Interdisciplinary Humanities Course on Informed Decision Making and Critical ThinkingThe interdisciplinary course “HUM 207: Informed Decision Making for Technical and MedicalProfessionals” debuted in the summer of 2013 at [institution]. The purpose of the course was tointroduce students with engineering, medical technology, computing technology, or businessbackgrounds to the concepts, techniques, knowledge, and perspectives that diverse fields ofstudy (such as classical literature, mathematics, and cognitive psychology) can contribute to thestudents’ technical careers and their lives.This is an exploratory paper about this pilot course, examining the role of the humanities, socialsciences, and communication in engineering education, the deepening of student experiencesthrough the humanities, and the challenges of integrating liberal education into engineering andtechnology curricula.The syllabus was centered on standard critical-thinking material: logic, epistemology, philosophyof science, cognitive science, and psychology. In addition, key concepts in Statistics, experimentdesign, history of medicine, and computational techniques from machine learning and decisionmaking were incorporated to forge connections to the students’ technical majors. These were, inturn, linked to the humanities content through several means such as prompted written and oralinquiry into conceptual parallels between contemporary and historical issues (and similarlybetween classical and modern works), a graphic novel about the quest for completeness inmathematics, and recurring expositions of heuristics, biases, illusions, and fallacies as applicableto each seemingly distinct topic.Exposure to the classics and different philosophical streams were provided in the form of variedreading sources, including required books with differing perspectives. As a result, students wereexposed to a variety of viewpoints as they learned to use cognitive tools for recognizing commonpitfalls of thinking. The goal was to help them develop rigorous, scientific habits of mind whilecultivating an appreciation of commonalities among philosophical, scientific, artistic, andmathematical modes of thought.The primary challenge became apparent early on in class discussions: small-group discussionswere consistently more effective than all-class discussions because scope creep was more easilycontrolled—especially by students. In large groups with such a mixture of students fromdifferent academic standings and backgrounds, a clear delineation of scope by the instructor wasa crucial preface to each discussion. Otherwise, valuable time was wasted on technicalities.Overall, students navigated a dense set of material and course objectives including writing,information literacy, interpreting classic and modern works of fiction, deductive, inductive, andfuzzy logic, Bayesian decision making, applications to justice and health care, and the role ofscience in society. The instructor, in turn, learned about the importance of framing discussionswith a precise focus and about the greater effectiveness of small discussion groups over large.

Vurkaç, M. (2014, June), Integrating Philosophy, Cognitive Science, and Computational Methods at a Polytechnic Institution: Experiences of Interdisciplinary Course Designs for Critical Thinking Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20667

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