Engineering Education 1: Critical lenses, Critical thinking and Critical reflection

Format: Panel discussion

  1. Panelist: Jon A. Leydens
    Affiliation: Colorado School of Mines, US
    Title: A View of Engineering and Social Justice through Two Theoretical Lenses: Structural-Functional and Social-Conflict Perspectives
    Abstract: Multiple tensions exist between engineering and social justice (SJ) as fields of practice. One tension involves engineering professionals viewing SJ with both aversion and attraction: seeing SJ as both a potential threat to and as a promising part of the broader field of engineering practice. To better understand and characterize this tension, as well as to understand opportunities and challenges for linking engineering and SJ in general, I conducted rhetorical analyses of select engineering and SJ texts. After initial readings of texts such as The Engineer of 2020, the emergent goal involved situating influential engineering education organizational statements that relate to SJ as well as prominent SJ statements within relevant theoretical perspectives. From this process, two prominent sociological perspectives surfaced: the structural-functional and the social-conflict. While the structural-functional perspective envisions society as a system composed of interrelated and interdependent parts that help maintain social order, the social-conflict perspective views society in terms of inequalities that lead to social change. Viewing such statements through these two theoretical lenses raises important questions that this study will address. What can we learn about the root causes of the aforementioned tension? What can we learn about the challenges and opportunities of integrating social justice activities or dialogues in engineering education contexts?
  2. Panelist: Jens Kabo
    Affiliation: Queen’s University, Canada
    Title: Seeing Through the Lens of Social Justice: A Threshold for Engineering
    Abstract: In my doctoral work it was recognised that problem solving is a central activity to engineering. However, it was also recognised that the conditions for doing engineering are changing, especially in light of pressing issues of poverty and environmental sustainability that humanity currently faces, and as a consequence, engineering education needs to emphasise problem definition to a greater extent. One mechanism for achieving this, which has been adopted by some engineering educators in recent years, is through courses that explicitly relate engineering to social justice. However, creating this relationship requires critical interdisciplinary thinking that is alien to most engineering students. In my dissertation it was suggested that for engineering students, and more generally, engineers, looking at their practice and profession through a social justice lens might be seen as a threshold that needs to be crossed. By studying the variation present among students in three different courses at three different North American universities, the intention was to understand how students approach and internalise social justice as a perspective on engineering and/or develop their abilities to think critically. In a previous publication (Kabo & Baillie, 2009a), my co-author and I suggested drawing on the outcome of that study as an exercise intended to help students move across the proposed social justice threshold. A version of that exercise was implemented in the 2009 iteration of the course Engineering and Social Justice, created and taught by Caroline Baillie and Richard Day at Queen’s University. The exercise has also been used by Caroline Baillie in a similar course at the University of Western Australia. The main idea was at an early stage of the course the instructors would expand the students’ understanding of social justice by having them see it through the eyes of other students. This was done by having them work in their project groups and read through a selection of quotes about social justice from the interviews with the previous year’s students. The rationale, drawing on the variation theory of learning (Marton & Tsui, 2004) was to expose the students to variation in how social justice is understood by someone in a similar context as the students themselves and because this would help students know what the critical aspects are which in turn would help them develop a more complex understanding of social justice. In this presentation reflections on this approach will be discussed.