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Technological Literacy, Engineering Literacy, Engineers, Public Officials and the Public

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


John Heywood Trinity College Dublin

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John Heywood is professorial Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin- The University of Dublin. he is a Fellow of ASEE and Life Fellow of IEEE. He has special interest in education for the professions and the role of professions in society. He is author of Engineering Education. Research and Development in Curriculum and Instruction ( IEEE/Wiley). he has a longstanding interest in the public understanding of engineering and science, technological and engineering literacy and is co-author of Science for Students: A Case Study in Curriculum Development (London. Society for Research into Higher Education).

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Michael Patrick Lyons Michael P. Lyons & Associates

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Chartered Engineer, Bachelor of Civil Engineering.
Fire and Safety Engineering Consultant, Contractor's Engineer 1988-1989. Worked in the public service 1991 to 2000. Private practice 2001 to present day. Specialises in fire safety. Lectures with Trinity College, Dublin on fire safety related modules. Lectures with I.T. Carlow on fire safety related modules.

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Abstract In 2017 The Technological and Engineering Literacy and Philosophy Division of the American Society for Engineering Education initiated a debate on “for whom” and “what” are studies in technological and engineering literacy for. This study presents a case for technological and engineering literacy for all. This is achieved by analysis of currently available documentation and in particular to the ASH report and BBC “Newsnight” documentaries on the on-going case of the Grenfell Fire tragedy of the 14th June 2017. On the data currently available this study reveals an apparent lack of engineering expertise in the planning, implementation and approval of the substantial refurbishment of the building. While the study demonstrates the validity of Krupczak et als distinction between technological and engineering literacy, it also suggests that the attention given to science and technology to the exclusion of engineering by the media may prevent the public from asking key questions about the role of engineering in such developments. It is argued that a major purpose of a curriculum in engineering and technological literacy is to better enable the public to ask and better understand the answers to questions that such disasters cause. Following Bucciarelli it is noted that the different elites involved understanding the engineering and social problems from different perspectives or object worlds that are governed by the different languages they use. In this case fire safety engineers are one of those elites. It is argued that the public as defined by the residents of the tower and associated housing including tower blocks in the vicinity are an elite. They provide the justification for teaching engineering literacy let alone technological literacy. The challenge for engineering literacy is to develop a “bridging” language so as they may better communicate with the other elites including those representing the law. Following a brief introduction, the Grenfell Tower Block is described, the overall purposes of its refurbishment outlined, and the management organisation described. The purposes, and function of the ASH report are outlined. The primary and secondary causes of the fire as currently understood are summarised. The implications for professional engineering are considered and questions the public should seek answers to are listed. From the perspectives of technological literacy two issues are considered, namely fake news, and the role of prejudice in public perceptions of what happened. It is concluded that a radically different approach to the design of the curriculum will be required if the public are to become engaged in engineering and technological literacy.

Heywood, J., & Lyons, M. P. (2018, June), Technological Literacy, Engineering Literacy, Engineers, Public Officials and the Public Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31069

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