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The Use of Narrative in Undergraduate Engineering Education

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

The Philosophy of Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


Gary P. Halada Stony Brook University

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Dr. Halada, Associate Professor in Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University, directs an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in Engineering Science. He designs educational materials focused on nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing, and how engineers learn from engineering disasters and how failure and risk analysis can be used to teach about ethics and societal implications of emerging technologies. Halada also coordinates the Long Island Alternative Energy Consortium, a collaborative effort among seven campuses to develop multi-disciplinary, multi-institution undergraduate and experiential education programs in renewable and alternative energies. In recognition of his academic activities, he received the 2012 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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Peter H. Khost Stony Brook University

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Peter Khost is an assistant professor in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and a faculty affiliate in the Department of English at Stony Brook University.

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The Use of Narrative in Undergraduate Engineering Education

Many theories of engineering education identify methods to engage students and enhance learning that leverage mechanisms by which learning occurs. Most commonly, techniques such as problem-based learning, discovery learning, scaffolding, and hands-on or active learning have been promoted to enhance learning of engineering concepts and design methods. But less systematically studied are approaches that specifically address student motivation (and its assessment). One especially overlooked modality in this regard, despite (and probably also because of) its pervasive presence in instructional discourse, is the use of narrative. Cognitive psychologist and philosopher of education Jerome Bruner defined two modes of thinking that apply in this context: “logico-scientific” and “narrative,” (which are not mutually exclusive). The logico-scientific mode (and its attendant argumentative method) is clearly the dominant mode in engineering education for focusing on science, math, and logic to categorize and understand engineering principles and develop technological applications. But use of narrative can both improve motivation in learning and enhance mastery of engineering knowledge, and more important, it is ideal for helping students understand broader impacts (societal, ethical, historical) in engineering. The 20th century French philosopher Paul Ricoeur points out that narrative is built upon concern for the human condition, and ethical literary scholar Marshall Gregory contends that there is indeed no stepping outside of narrative contexts. Hence, by more explicitly and imaginatively using stories in engineering education, including case studies and cautionary tales, a more holistic approach may be achieved: one which happens to be reflected in ABET’s student learning outcomes. In addition, by exploring ‘missing narratives’ – voices and stories that are silenced or excluded in a given narrative – we can better understand the role of ethics and values in engineering designs and technological failures. We will discuss models for the use of narrative, and examine the results of the presenter’s use in undergraduate courses of disaster literature and science fiction (both reading and writing) to enhance the learning of engineering ethics, value sensitive design, and risk assessment. We will also discuss further roles for the concepts of narrative pedagogy in engineering (for example, having students tell stories of their own relationship with technology) and, in a broader sense, explore the potential for enhancing teaching and learning in engineering and the humanities through seeing engineering designs as narratives themselves.

Halada, G. P., & Khost, P. H. (2017, June), The Use of Narrative in Undergraduate Engineering Education Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29018

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