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Representation Issues In Engineering Education: Engineering Issues And Parallels From The Visual & Performing Arts

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Innovative Classroom Techniques

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1081.1 - 11.1081.14



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Paper Authors


William Lee University of South Florida

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Bill Lee is a Professor of Chemical Engineering with a significant interest in the practical and philosophical aspects of the educational process. He currently has several projects with faculty in the Visual and Performing Arts, exploring issues in the educational process, problem solving, and creativity.

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Mernet Larson University of South Florida

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Mernet Larson is a Professor of Art History who has written and taught in the areas of art history, art theory, art criticism, and educational aspects of art. She is also a professional artist.

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Jack Heller University of South Florida

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Jack Heller is a Professor in Music Education who has written extensively in the areas of music composition, music theory, and educational and psychological issues of music.

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Douglas Lunsford University of South Florida

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Douglas Lunsford is an educational psychologist specializing in the areas of educational assessment and the psychological issues related to the general educational process.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Representation issues in engineering education: engineering issues and parallels from the visual and performing arts


Engineering educations routinely use a variety of means to assist in the education process, including all forms of media (books, visual aids, virtual sources, etc.). The incorporation of “real world” materials and experiences is disappearing. Students actually see the hardware aspects of their subject less and less, including (small scale) individual components and (large scale) industrial processes. While this may reflect economic and convenience realities, there is a potential conceptual error being made by instructors (and subsequently adopted by students) that studying models, diagrams, illustrations, etc. of engineering objects or processes of interest is equivalent to (and perhaps even superior to) including the “real” object in the educational process. In the extreme, many may even feel such inclusion or the providing of such experiences is unnecessary. Put another way, elimination of “real world” experiences is accompanied by the loss of sensory information; this loss of information lessens the quality of the educational experience. In the Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), a similar problem has also occurred. Musicians study scores rather than listen to music; theater studies the script and not the performed play, etc. Thus, meaningful parallels can be drawn between engineering and the VPA in terms of the problem and its potential solutions.

A discussion of representation theory will be presented along with potential errors that may result when “reality” is progressively eliminated from direct experience. A series of examples from current engineering practices will then be presented, drawing from several engineering disciplines. Next, parallels in the VPA will be addressed, further illustrating and expanding the discussion. Finally, solutions to the problems will be presented, providing educators with practical ideas to implement. Data from a survey of engineering educators from several departments will also be included in the presentation, illustrating the problem with data showing the extent to which “real objects” are or are not included in the educational process. This includes a “snapshot” of the present situation and a comparison to earlier time periods (specifically 10 and 20 years ago). Not surprising, there is a correlation between the value of “real object” incorporation and extent of previous industrial experience.


The following is a passage from the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting , specifically from a scene where the psychologist (played by Robin Williams) is talking with his patient (played by Matt Damon)1:

So, if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo. You know a lot about him. Life's work, ... right? But I bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. ....

I ask you about war, you'd probably uh...throw Shakespeare at me, right? "Once

Lee, W., & Larson, M., & Heller, J., & Lunsford, D. (2006, June), Representation Issues In Engineering Education: Engineering Issues And Parallels From The Visual & Performing Arts Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1177

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