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"Making" a Bridge: Critical Making as Synthesized Engineering/Humanistic Inquiry

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Pedagogies of Making and Design

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Dean Nieusma Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Orcid 16x16

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Dean Nieusma is Associate Professor in Science and Technology Studies and Director of the Programs in Design and Innovation at Rensselaer.

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James W. Malazita Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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James Malazita is a Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute whose work draws from Science and Technology Studies, Media Studies, Philosophy, and Literary Theory. Originally trained as a game designer, animator, and web developer, Dr. Malazita applies design thinking to the social sciences, using both cultural studies and artistic methodologies to explore the relationships among humans, animals, machines, the environment, and cultural objects and ideas.

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Over the past decade, considerable attention has been devoted to “making” practices: celebrating the potential of making to reinvigorate the US manufacturing base and economy; highlighting the “democratization” of technology development as ordinary people directly create the products they will use; anticipating the possibility of a whole new generation of students primed for STEM education and careers. Making practices, facilities, and integrated “makerspaces” have been enthusiastically embraced within engineering education programs at high school and university levels, and are proliferating rapidly within diverse educational settings. Perhaps surprising to many within engineering and other STEM fields, making practices are also being embraced and adapted within the humanities, particularly a branch of humanistic inquiry labeled “digital humanities.” As humanists organize research practices and supporting theoretical frameworks around making, new possibilities arise for using making practices to integrate technical and liberal educational goals within the context of engineering education.

This paper provides an overview of contemporary work in digital humanities involving making activities and the potential of this work to inform engineering education making activities in a way that bridges technical and humanistic concerns. It highlights how making practices themselves can be understood as a form of inquiry, with modalities drawing on—but distinct from—traditional engineering and humanities epistemologies. The paper draws on a larger research-and-teaching initiative at [Our Institution] titled, “Making as Critical Inquiry,” which is currently being integrated into our interdisciplinary undergraduate design program. This program has a well-established history of bridging content from engineering and liberal education, but the making activities that are currently practiced have not yet been theorized as one of the mechanisms through which technical-social integration is achieved. The paper provides specific examples of making practices and projects that exemplify the desired integration and then highlights how even engineering-centered design pedagogy can use making activities as a vehicle for building a bridge between engineering and critical social inquiry based in humanistic educational frameworks.

Nieusma, D., & Malazita, J. W. (2016, June), "Making" a Bridge: Critical Making as Synthesized Engineering/Humanistic Inquiry Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26234

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