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Sociotechnical Habits of Mind: Initial Survey Results and their Formative Impact on Sociotechnical Teaching and Learning

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Conference

2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

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

Page Count

28

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/33275

Download Count

27

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Paper Authors

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Kathryn Johnson Colorado School of Mines

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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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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. With co-author Juan C. Lucena, Dr. Leydens' most recent book is 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 Erickson 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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Alyssa Miranda Boll Colorado School of Mines

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Alyssa Miranda Boll is a graduating senior at the Colorado School of Mines and is active in professional organizations including the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and Out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Her technical studies focus on digital circuits and computer engineering. Her prior research experience includes internships at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She is passionate about intersectionality and advocacy of underrepresented groups in STEM and has participated in research of sociotechnical thinking in undergraduate engineering curriculum.

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Stephanie Claussen Colorado School of Mines

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Stephanie Claussen’s experience spans both engineering and education research. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005. Her Ph.D. work at Stanford University focused on optoelectronics, and she continues that work in her position at the Colorado School of Mines, primarily with the involvement of undergraduate researchers. In her role as a Teaching Professor, she is primarily tasked with the education of undergraduate engineers. In her courses, she employs active learning techniques and project-based learning. Her previous education research, also at Stanford, focused on the role of cultural capital in science education. Her current interests include engineering students' development of social responsibility and the impact of students' backgrounds in their formation as engineers.

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Barbara M. Moskal Colorado School of Mines

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Barbara Moskal is a research professor in the College of Education at Texas Tech University. She is also a Senior Associate Editor for the Journal of Engineering Education.

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Abstract

Within the United States, most engineering programs are dominated by engineering science courses that consist primarily of decontextualized (or minimally contextualized), closed-ended problems that fail to illustrate how sociotechnical factors impact problem definition and solution processes. Thus, the engineering curricula reinforce the notion that technical problem-solving can be separated from from the social context in which the problem emerged. Students within such curricula often incorrectly expect engineering and social problems to be separate from each other, thus leaving them ill-equipped to think critically about the ambiguity of sociotechnical problems that they will encounter in the workforce. When a practicing engineer fails to consider social contexts that shape and are shaped by their designs, the stakeholders that this engineer serves may suffer, the engineer’s company may experience costly project delays or cancelations, and the reputation of the engineering profession may be damaged.

We hypothesize here that many engineering students are ill-prepared to approach the solutions of engineering problems using a sociotechnical framework. Upon graduation, these engineers may believe that their job is to solve technical problems without considering social impacts or consequences. In this paper, we will discuss the results from administering an instrument developed and designed to measure sociotechnical thinking [BLINDED] by engineering students at two Western U. S. universities. In brief, prior research on engineering practice accentuates why sociotechnical thinking matters. For instance, one decade-long study involved over 300 interviews with practicing engineers, survey data from nearly 400 engineers, and multiple years of participant observations of engineers at work. That study concluded that those who remained in and found satisfaction in engineering were those who recognized the important interplays between technical and social dimensions of framing and solving problems [Trevelyan, 2014]. Although this study was conducted in Australasian contexts, studies in US and UK contexts have come to similar conclusions: engineering is a sociotechnical field of practice [Stevens, Johri, & O’Connor, 2014; Martin, Maytham, Case, & Fraser, 2005]. Despite such studies, engineering courses frequently continue to separate the social and the technical, which only exacerbates the disconnect and differences between engineering education systems and engineering practice.

In a prior paper, we described the process that was used to develop a survey to measure sociotechnical thinking in engineering education [BLINDED]. This survey was administered to a total of 543 students who were in their first, second or third year of engineering preparation in the Spring and Fall of 2018. The courses range from a first-year introductory design course to a junior-level core engineering science course. All appropriate human subjects procedures were followed.

For each administration, students were provided with sufficient time to complete the survey in-class either via paper or online. In the Spring 2018, the survey was offered slightly later in the semester (week 7) than in Fall 2018 (weeks 1-5). In both semesters, the survey was administered prior to any classroom discussions concerning sociotechnical thinking. The purpose of this administration was to gather baseline data or data that would describe students’ sociotechnical thinking before receiving instruction that addresses or develops their understanding of this concept. In the future, we will use this instrument to measure how students’ sociotechnical thinking changes from before to after an intervention. A primary contribution of the current paper is understanding what engineering students know intuitively or based on prior experiences about sociotechnical thinking. Additionally, the inclusion of two universities and multiple education levels supports a comparison of sociotechnical thinking as it occurs in these different settings.

Thematic coding methods for open-ended student survey responses focused on statements related to sociotechnical thinking. Two trained research members coded the qualitative survey responses separately, and each wrote a summary analytic memo. The two researchers then compared thematic codes and memos, and wrote a consensus memo.

Students attend different universities, come from different backgrounds, and are in different stages of their undergraduate education. Yet, based on preliminary analysis of the Spring 2018 data, there were no apparent differences in students’ understanding of sociotechnical thinking between the institutions. There was not an obvious change across educational levels from Freshman to Junior, suggesting that sociotechnical thinking may not be a product of maturation. However, our Spring 2018 data was drawn from 53 survey responses, while we have an additional 490 responses to be analyzed for Fall 2018, which may allow us to draw more significant conclusions.

Themes in students’ responses emerged from the qualitative analysis of the survey data. In Spring 2018, the three most relevant themes were: sociotechnical integration/dualism, engineers’ social responsibility/privilege and power, and motivations and influence on perspectives. Most student survey responses could be categorized within these themes. In the full paper, detailed examples will be provided of each and the prevalence of these themes will be discussed.

An overarching purpose of the survey is to be able to detect and measure changes over time in student perspectives on sociotechnical thinking and social responsibility of engineers. Thus, we will also report on quantitative and qualitative differences between the Fall 2018 early and late-semester surveys, as well as comparing the Fall 2018 data to Spring 2018 data. Similarities and differences across classes and universities will be further explored. We will also discuss the use of these surveys results in a formative manner for our research, since they provide valuable feedback on how students perceive the teaching of sociotechnical thinking to engineers. Finally, we will discuss avenues for ongoing research and gaps in our knowledge that can be gleaned from this single instrument.

References Martin, Rosanna, Bryan Maythan, Jennifer Case, and Duncan Fraser, (2005) “Engineering graduates’ perceptions of how well they were prepared for work in industry,” European Journal of Engineering Education, 30(2), 167-180. Stevens, R., Johri, A., & O’connor, K. (2014) “Professional engineering work,” Cambridge handbook of engineering education research, 119-137. Trevelyan, J, (2014) The making of an expert engineer: how to have a wonderful career creating a better world and spending lots of money belonging to other people, Leiden, The Netherlands: CRC Press.

Johnson, K., & Leydens, J. A., & Erickson, J., & Boll, A. M., & Claussen, S., & Moskal, B. M. (2019, June), Sociotechnical Habits of Mind: Initial Survey Results and their Formative Impact on Sociotechnical Teaching and Learning Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. https://peer.asee.org/33275

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: © 2019 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