June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Technological Literacy Constituent Committee
14.1132.1 - 14.1132.13
Teaching Emerging Technologies Using a Socio-Technological Development Model Weapons and Systems Engineering United States Naval Academy
The Systems Engineering department at the United States Naval Academy (USNA) offers an ABET-accredited degree program that focuses on feedback control and mechatronics, including aspects of mechanical and electrical systems design. Several years ago, an effort was begun toward developing an engineering management elective track to supplement the existing specialization courses in robotics, control theory, information systems and embedded computing. As part of that initial effort, the author developed a course involving study and analysis of emerging technologies. The course evolved in such a way as to take on a life separate from the engineering management track, and has become one of the most popular electives offered in the department. The core content of the course was considered so important to the development of our students that it became a required course for the new Honors major offered by the department starting in 2008.
In this paper, we discuss the pedagogical foundations of, and our practical experiences with, teaching students to analyze new and emerging technologies from a global perspective. In the emerging technologies course offered as a senior-level engineering elective at USNA, students are introduced to the fundamental methods and tools for ongoing evaluation of new, potentially disruptive technologies. Students use the tools of socio-technological analysis to carry out projection (determining what is possible, based on currently understood science), prediction (analyzing what is likely to be achievable under the limitations of current understanding, existing capabilities, and the economic, political and social realities of the day) and valuation (determining what is valuable, based on risk and reward, ethics, etc.).
The described course has as its main outcome a skill set that supports life-long learning and fosters an understanding of the factors that affect and effect technological change. Students who take the course are, ideally, inspired to take part in some aspect of technological development outside of the normal R&D focus of an engineering education. Students are asked to think as if they were advisors to the President, directors of research programs, or analysts for various institutions. This requires a new set of tools and a new mindset for most of these students, and offers a challenging but rewarding experience that is equaled by that of the professor who teaches the course.
The Fundamental Questions
Knowing what questions to ask is the first step in being able to analyze an emerging technology. Based on the forward-looking work of Eric Drexler in Engines of Creation1, students in the emerging technologies course at USNA are taught to ask the aforementioned three fundamental questions:
Question 1: What is possible, based on our current understanding of the laws of the universe?
Bishop, B. (2009, June), Teaching Emerging Technologies Using A Sociotechnological Development Model Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5600
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