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Perspectives of Seven Minoritized Students in a First-Year Course Redesign toward Sociotechnical Engineering Education

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

LEES 2: Stories of Intersectionality and Institutional Marginalization

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Paper Authors


Desen Ozkan Tufts University

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Desen Ozkan is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) and the Institute for Research on Learning and Education (IRLI). She holds a Ph.D. from Virginia Tech in engineering education and a B.S. from Tufts University in Chemical Engineering. Her primary research is on interdisciplinarity and engineering decisions as they relate to broader social, political, and economic contexts.

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Chelsea Andrews Tufts University

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Chelsea Andrews is a Research Assistant Professor at Tufts University at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.

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The social/technical dualism in the engineering curriculum leaves students ill-prepared to tackle real-world technical problems in their social, economic, and political contexts (Cech, 2013; Faulkner, 2007; Trevelan, 2010, 2014). Increasingly, students have expressed the desire for their technical courses to show the interplay between social and technical considerations (Leydens & Lucena, 2017), but they have few opportunities to develop these sociotechnical ways of thinking (i.e., values, attitudes, and skills that integrate the social and technical). Instead, students are left to infer engineering as technically neutral through the instructional decisions that make up an engineering curriculum (Cech, 2013; Trevelan, 2014).

In this study, we focus on how students understand the role of sociotechnical thinking in engineering. Particularly, this study centers seven minoritized students in an introductory engineering computation class who are pursuing an engineering degree. The study takes place at a medium private university in New England. These seven students are from a group of roughly seventy students split between two of the five sections for the course. These two sections were recently revised to include more sociotechnical readings, discussions, and homework facilitated with learning assistants. We are interested in understanding the self-described sense of belonging that these students feel as they relate it to learning about engineering as a sociotechnical field.

While the dualism between engineering's technical and social dimensions has been studied in ASEE LEES papers, articles in Engineering Studies, broader engineering education research, and Science, Technology, and Science publications (e.g., Cech, 2013; Faulkner, 2007; Leydens & Lucena, 2017; Riley, 2017; Wisnioski, 2012), there is a need to connect this vast literature with the similarly extensive research on students' sense of belonging and engineering identity development, specifically for those students who have historically been excluded from engineering. Specifically, we draw on W.E.B. DuBois's notion of a 'double consciousness' from the Souls of Black Folks (1903) as a lens through which to understand how these seven students take on the political, economic, and social dimensions presented to them through a first-year engineering curricular redesign around engineering as sociotechnical.

We note the small-n design of this study (Slaton & Pawley, 2018). The seven interviewed students are gender and racial minorities in engineering. However, we note that they do not represent all minoritized students in engineering, and to respect and elevate their experiences, we take a narrative approach. This study is intended to center the perspectives and experiences of these seven students as they navigate an engineering learning environment. We do not intend for the findings to be generalizable or exhaustive but informative as we think about scaling up the sociotechnical curricular redesign in engineering at this university and more broadly.

Ozkan, D., & Andrews, C. (2022, August), Perspectives of Seven Minoritized Students in a First-Year Course Redesign toward Sociotechnical Engineering Education Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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