Asee peer logo

Really Changing the Conversation: The Deficit Model and Public Understanding of Engineering

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

A Challenge to Engineering Educators

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1025.1 - 23.1025.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Canek Moises Luna Phillips Purdue University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Canek Phillips is a graduate student at Purdue University in Engineering Education. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Rice University and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado State University. His research is focused on how people relate knowledge in engineering forums.

visit author page


Kacey Beddoes Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Dr. Kacey Beddoes is a Postdoctoral Researcher with ADVANCE-Purdue in Purdue’s School of Engineering Education. She received her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech in 2011 and serves as Managing Editor of Engineering Studies and Assistant Editor of the Global Engineering Series at Morgan & Claypool.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Really Changing the Conversation: The Deficit Model and Engineering Education!Numerous reports and outreach initiatives stem from a concern over low public understanding ofand interest in engineering. Most often, these reports and initiatives express a belief (eitherimplicitly or explicitly) that the public does not understand or appreciate engineering becausethey are uninformed or misinformed and that, consequently, the provision of more information(in the form of scientific literacy or the benefits of engineering), will lead to increasedunderstanding and support for engineering. In that way, they are enactments of the deficit model.The deficit model is a term from the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) used todescribe initiatives/projects that are based upon a belief in the public’s lack of knowledge andscientific literacy and seek to remedy it by providing more, correct, information. However, alarge body of literature has now identified significant problems with the deficit model, includingproblems that undermine the aims of organizers or authors, thus limiting efficacy of efforts tocommunicate with the public. Therefore, the aim of this paper is three-fold: 1) to introduce thedeficit model to an engineering education audience, 2) to identify leading critiques thatengineering educators should be aware of, and 3) to present a framework that can be used byengineering educators and taught to future practicing engineers to think through importantdimensions of communication.The paper begins with an introduction to the deficit model. We explain the concept and identifyits major limitations. Following that is a discussion of the types of publics that are constructedthrough various communication models and how the deficit model limits the types of publics thatare engaged. Next, examples of leading initiatives that enact the deficit model are presented todemonstrate the current over-reliance on deficit model enactments within engineering andengineering education. Alternative communication models, drawn from science communicationliterature, are then presented and the ways in which they provide different types of publicparticipation methods through added levels of information flow, directions of influence, andconstructions of publics are discussed. Using prior insights from STS, as well as communicationsliterature, we present a framework of three key concepts integral to public communication: flowof information, direction of influence, and the construction of publics so that engineers canunderstand how these dimensions affect the ways communication with the public is carried out.The paper concludes with a discussion of how the expanded understandings of communicationprovided can be used to accomplish previous goals set forth by programs such as Changing theConversation - including providing outreach and improvement of scientific literacy for the publicgood - while also allowing for public input about important issues related to engineering.

Phillips, C. M. L., & Beddoes, K. (2013, June), Really Changing the Conversation: The Deficit Model and Public Understanding of Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22410

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015