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Is Sociotechnical Thinking Important in Engineering Education?: Survey Perceptions of Male and Female Undergraduates

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Maggie Swartz Colorado School of Mines

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Maggie Swartz is a graduating senior in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Public Affairs through the McBride Honors Program at the Colorado School of Mines. As a member of the McBride Honors Program for the past three and a half years, she is passionate about sociotechnical interfaces and human impacts in engineering. Her involvement with the Society of Women Engineers increased her awareness of the challenges facing female engineering students, both at the university level and as they pursue careers in industry. Graduating this December, she hopes to retain this knowledge for the benefit of herself and other women engineers as she pursues an industry career.

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Jon A. Leydens Colorado School of Mines

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Jon A. Leydens is Associate Professor of Engineering Education Research in the Division of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines, USA. Dr. Leydens’ research and teaching interests are in engineering education, communication, and social justice. Dr. Leydens is author or co-author of 40 peer-reviewed papers, co-author of Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (Morgan and Claypool, 2010), and editor of Sociotechnical Communication in Engineering (Routledge, 2014). In 2016, Dr. Leydens won the Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education Award from the National Academy of Engineering, along with CSM colleagues Juan C. Lucena and Kathryn Johnson, for a cross-disciplinary suite of courses that enact macroethics by making social justice visible in engineering education. In 2017, he and two co-authors won the Best Paper Award in the Minorities in Engineering Division at the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference. Dr. Leydens’ recent research, with co-author Juan C. Lucena, focused on rendering visible the social justice dimensions inherent in three components of the engineering curriculum—in engineering sciences, engineering design, and humanities and social science courses; that work resulted in Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice (Wiley-IEEE Press, 2018). His current research grant project explores how to foster and assess sociotechnical thinking in engineering science and design courses.

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Jacquelene D. Walter Colorado School of Mines

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Jacquelene Walter is a third year undergraduate student at Colorado School of Mines pursuing a major in Electrical Engineering. She has been a general tutor at Colorado School of Mines for first and second year students and will continue to assist with the research in sociotechnical integration until her graduation in 2020.

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Kathryn Johnson Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Kathryn Johnson is an Associate Professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and is Jointly Appointed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center. She has researched wind turbine control systems since 2002, with numerous projects related to reducing turbine loads and increasing energy capture. She has applied experiential learning techniques in several wind energy and control systems classes and began engineering education research related to social justice in control systems engineering in fall 2014.

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Research on engineering practice accentuates interplays between the social and technical dimensions of complex engineering problems. Yet within engineering education, relatively little content focuses on such interplays. Content in the engineering curricula often ignores the broader impacts or sociocultural contexts in which engineering designs, products, and services are created and used.

As part of a larger study, our research examines whether (compared to males) female undergraduate engineering students indicate similar or different perceptions on the integration of sociotechnical thinking in engineering curricula. The integration of sociotechnical thinking in engineering curricula represents one of several pedagogical techniques that may engage female (and perhaps also male) engineering students as a result of correlation to perceived learning preferences and broader interests.

After reviewing relevant literature, this paper analyzes quantitative survey data on student perceptions of the importance of sociotechnical integration in engineering education. Baseline sociotechnical survey data were collected in spring and fall semesters of 2018 in two (spring) and three (fall) engineering classes at two public universities: the Colorado School of Mines and University of Colorado Boulder.

Results demonstrate a greater preference for certain forms of sociotechnical thinking in engineering among women. For example, female students assigned greater importance to ‘Ethical’ and ‘Social’ considerations and skills such as ‘Listen to and integrate the perspectives of both engineers and non-engineers’ and ‘Work with people having a diverse set of backgrounds.’ Also, compared to male students, a higher percentage of female students characterized social responsibility as ‘Engineers’ obligations to the public’ and identified the reason why engineers have special societal obligations as due to the notion that ‘Engineering decisions can impact individuals, communities, and the broader public positively and/or negatively.’ These results are particularly salient when considered in light of recent research accentuating the importance of contextualized engineering problem-framing and solving processes within a broader sociotechnical context. Finally, we explore ways in which the results open up multiple directions for future research.

Swartz, M., & Leydens, J. A., & Walter, J. D., & Johnson, K. (2019, June), Is Sociotechnical Thinking Important in Engineering Education?: Survey Perceptions of Male and Female Undergraduates Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33030

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