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Intersections of Humanities and Engineering: Experiments in Engineering Specific Humanities Electives and Pedagogies

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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

24.802.1 - 24.802.14



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Paper Authors


Alan Chong University of Toronto

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Alan Chong is a Senior Lecturer with the Engineering Communication Program at the Univ. of Toronto, and is the communication coordinator for Civil Engineering, where he teaches a second year communication course, and administers a third year civil engineering portfolio.

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Lydia Wilkinson University of Toronto Orcid 16x16

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Lydia Wilkinson is a lecturer in the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Toronto. She holds a Bachelor of Education and a Master’s in Drama. She has published articles on performance and on communication, and has edited journals and anthologies

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Deborah Tihanyi University of Toronto

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Deborah Tihanyi is a Senior Lecturer in the Engineering Communication Program at the University of Toronto.

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Intersections of Humanities and Engineering: Experiments in Engineering Specific HumanitiesElectives and PedagogiesA significant amount of research, as well as with the 2000 ABET requirements, has acknowledged theimportance of a broad-based, liberal education for engineering students’ critical reading and thinkingabilities. Yet the question of how to integrate that education into already bursting engineering curricularemains a challenge. For engineering students, many of whom still define themselves in opposition tothe “artsies” residing on the other side of campus, the opportunity to take a humanities elective inanother program is often fraught with anxieties about academic expectations, unfamiliar pedagogicalapproaches, and engineering vs. arts student stereotypes. In some universities, engineering students arealso given lower priority in registering for humanities courses, making selection of desired subjects andcourses even more challenging.At the Univ. of [name redacted], the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering has taken analternative approach to these challenges by developing in-house humanities and school scienceelectives designed specifically to appeal to engineering students. The courses operate at theintersections between humanities and engineering, and are staffed by faculty members from theEngineering Communication Program (ECP). Although the ECP’s main responsibility is to teachcommunication skills to engineering students, their faculty’s diverse backgrounds in theatre, literature,and education, alongside their understanding of engineering student needs make them well suited forthese electives. Combining science and engineering topics with humanities activities and pedagogieshelps encourage engineering students to participate freely in a non-threatening environment.Several different courses, focusing on different intersections, now exist. “Representing Science onStage” focuses on the intersections between science and theatre, framed by an attempt to define“science/scientist” and “performance/performer,” and to pull apart stereotypical binary pairs--rationalvs. imaginative, objective vs. subjective, intellectual vs. emotional, using plays with science as itssubject matter. Another course, “Representing Science and Technology in the Popular Media” teachesliterary and critical analysis through close examination of popular science texts, particularly sciencejournalism. It takes advantage of the students’ scientific backgrounds, which affords them a deeperability to assess the validity, identify characteristics, and critique the techniques employed in the prose.Another course focuses on the role of science in art, from the development of new materials andtechniques, to its role as subject matter.This paper describes the motivation behind developing humanities electives that exist at theintersection of the humanities and engineering, and examines instructor experiences and studentfeedback from the courses to reach several important conclusions. First, the classroom atmospherecreated by a group of engineering students participating in traditionally humanities pedagogies, inwhich their disciplinary expertise brings to bear some important perspectives on the content, is uniqueand highly valuable. Second, students see the relevance of their experience in these courses to theirchosen careers more clearly. And finally, these intersections begin to break down traditional binariesbetween engineering and the arts, engineering students and their arts counterparts.

Chong, A., & Wilkinson, L., & Tihanyi, D. (2014, June), Intersections of Humanities and Engineering: Experiments in Engineering Specific Humanities Electives and Pedagogies Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20694

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