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The Untapped Student Goldmine

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Technology Literacy for Non-Engineers

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1478.1 - 12.1478.16



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Paper Authors


Barbara Oakley Oakland University

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Barbara Oakley is an Associate Professor of Engineering at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She received her B.A. in Slavic Languages and Literature, as well as a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, from the University of Washington in Seattle. Her Ph.D. in Systems Engineering from Oakland University was received in 1998. Her technical research involves biomedical applications and electromagnetic
compatibility. She is a recipient of the NSF FIE New Faculty Fellow Award, was designated an NSF New Century Scholar, and has received the John D. and Dortha J. Withrow Teaching Award and the Naim and Ferial Kheir Teaching Award.

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Lorenzo Smith Oakland University

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Yin-ping (Daniel) Chang Oakland University

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

The Untapped Student Goldmine Abstract

Many university programs in the liberal arts, humanities, and sciences depend on general education credits to maintain viability. As a consequence, instructors in these programs have often designed general education courses to attract students from outside their discipline. Such courses serve the dual purpose of introducing students to a subject they might otherwise never learn about, as well as generating credit hours for the department. Along these lines, a set of general education courses based on the book How Things Work, by physics professor Louis Bloomfield, have proven to be extremely popular nationwide. Although Bloomfield’s book uses popular devices such as refrigerators, automobile engines, flashlights, and microwave ovens to teach the concepts of physics, Oakland University has successfully experimented with using the book as a primary vehicle to teach basic concepts involving engineering. Either approach, of course, results in an increase in the technological literacy of the liberal arts and humanities students who take the course.

In this study, thirty randomly selected U.S. schools with accredited engineering programs were examined. Thirty-seven general education physics courses designed primarily for non-science majors were found to have enrollments totaling 5,711 students, in contrast with only four commonly taught engineering outreach courses, with enrollments totaling only 435 students. (Most of these students were enrolled in two popular courses taught at Boise State University.) Ultimately, it appears engineering schools could greatly expand their general education outreach by co- opting some of the techniques used by physics departments, as has been done at Boise State and the authors’ own university. An increase in engineering outreach courses nationwide could strengthen engineering programs by cost-effectively increasing the number of credit hours taught; provide positive public relations for the discipline of engineering; serve as a much-needed recruiting conduit for engineering schools; and make a dramatic difference in the technological literacy of humanities and liberal arts students in the United States.


Historically, engineering students on college campuses have been viewed as boring, dull, and uncreative.1-9 This negative perception of engineers and engineering, in fact, is thought to play a role in the difficulty many schools experience in their attempts to build enrollment.10-13 In part in response to such criticisms, as well as similar criticisms about engineers from the workplace, ABET, the accrediting agency for schools of engineering and technology in the United States, has attempted to broaden the training engineering students receive.14, 15 Consequently, accrediting criteria now specify that engineering studies must have training involving a number of areas, including professional and ethical responsibility; an ability to communicate effectively; an understanding of the impact of engineering solutions in a global,

Oakley, B., & Smith, L., & Chang, Y. D. (2007, June), The Untapped Student Goldmine Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1597

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