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Using History of Technology to Promote an Understanding of the Impact of Engineering Solutions among Engineering Students

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Liberal Education Revisited: Five Historical Perspectives

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1622.1 - 22.1622.14



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Paper Authors


Michael Geselowitz IEEE History Center

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Michael N. Geselowitz is Staff Director of the IEEE History Center. Immediately prior to joining IEEE in 1997, he was Group Manager at Eric Marder Associates, a New York market research firm, where he supervised Ph.D. scientists and social scientists undertaking market analyses for Fortune 500 high-tech companies. He is also a registered Patent Agent.

He holds S.B. degrees in electrical engineering and in anthropology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology from Harvard University.

His research focus has been on the history and social relations of technology. He has worked as an electronics engineer for the Department of Defense, and he has held teaching and research positions relating to the social study of technology at M.I.T., Harvard, and Yale University, including a stint as Assistant Collections Manager/Curator at Harvard's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.

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John Vardalas IEEE

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Outreach Historian
IEEE History Center

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Using History of Technology to Promote an Understanding of the Impact of Engineering Solutions among PractitionersTen years ago, ABET, the primary accreditation organization for post-secondary engineering andtechnology departments in the United States, revised their requirement for undergraduateprograms leading to a bachelor’s of science degree in engineering. The new standards, known asEC2000, require that students receiving the B.S. degree “understand the impact of engineeringsolutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.” The logic behind such arequirement is obvious, and other national bodies have similar standards. Given the increasingglobalization of technology even in just the past decade, many ABET-accredited programs haveemphasized STS-style courses or course modules emphasizing current international finance andcurrent transnational issues such as global climate change. However, the issue of the impact ofengineering decisions within and between societies is not a new one. By ignoring the deephistorical context of engineering, such curricula miss an opportunity to have students explore amore fundamental understanding of the interplay between technology and the other aspects ofthe society. Historians of technology can bring to the table a breadth and depth of case studyanalyses that broaden the perspective on this issue. Furthermore, they can do so in directcollaboration with engineering educators. This paper presents preliminary attempts to developengineering course modules that use the history of technology to make future engineeringpractitioners more aware of the impact of their technical decisions on society at large. Thedevelopment includes a pilot program jointly in the social science and engineering programs at aspecific institution, and also the dissemination of the pilot on a well-established interactivewebsite.

Geselowitz, M., & Vardalas, J. (2011, June), Using History of Technology to Promote an Understanding of the Impact of Engineering Solutions among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18800

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