Service Learning: in the service of social justice?

Format: Panel discussion

  1. Panelist: Dean Nieusma
    Affiliation: Rensselaer Polytechnic, US
    Title: Public Participation in Engineering Design Practice
    Abstract: This paper categorizes and analyzes different approaches to public participation in engineering design practice and applies insights gained to potential classroom applications. The different approaches are identified based on review of relevant literatures and empirical case material. The literature review includes relevant works primarily from the fields of development engineering, engineering education, and science and technology studies (STS). In STS, scholarship on public participation in expert decision making is well established, but more attention is paid to challenges of citizen participation in matters of science than in matters of technology making. In engineering education and development engineering literatures, particularly those dealing with design in context, community/user participation is often included as part of the narrative but is not always systematically addressed and is rarely opened to theoretical analysis. And rarely is participation of stakeholders beyond the immediately targeted user-group considered. The empirical case data for this analysis is derived mostly from appropriate technology design projects in developing countries, including both service learning projects and those sponsored by professional development workers. By drawing connections across these literatures and the case material, the paper provides a spectrum of “modes of participation” and identifies the major conceptual and pragmatic challenges to each. It then considers potential classroom applications of these modes of participation, and connects them to reform efforts in engineering education—particularly in interdisciplinary engineering design education. Are engineering students being educated for the challenges confronting real-world design practice that effectively responds to—or even invites—public participation in their work? And if not, how can they be? These questions reverse the typical framing of “(public) technological literacy” problems and direct attention to the preparedness of (and strategies for) engineers to engage user groups and other members of the public in effective ways.
  2. Panelists: Craig Titus
    Affiliation: Purdue University, US
    Title: Toward the Socially Just Engineer: Ethics Pedagogy and the Problems of Service-Learning Engineering
    Abstract: It is our belief that students participating in service-learning engineering design courses carry an increased responsibility to engage in sound moral reasoning, but our own empirical research has shown that students often lack the skills they need in order to do so. Engineering students often operate with extremely limited understandings of social justice, fairness, and properly inclusive design, and they often find it difficult to understand the wider social implications of how their work affects others outside of their own design team, such as the communities for which they design.
    In the context of a large, multi-section, interdisciplinary service-learning design course—with students from nearly 40 different majors and all four grade levels— we have designed measures to integrate the instruction and assessment of moral decision making into the regular curriculum. We have aimed at an effective intersection of philosophical and ethical grounding with technical engineering design. To this end we have so far created a large-scale lecture, small-group workshops, and an assessment instrument to measure moral decision making within this particular context. This paper will outline the research that initiated our development, and the philosophy motivating our pedagogical approach. Our short presentation will include data showing our effectiveness.
  3. Panelists: Richard Arias and Astrid Bejarano
    Affiliation: Ingenieros Sin Fronteras, Colombia
    Title: The Engineering and the Social in EWB
    Abstract: This paper analyzes the engineering and social aspects of the work carried out by EWB organisations. It criticizes approaches to intervention and technology implementation in vulnerable communities based on paternalist methodologies and states the benefits of adopting methodologies based on a “capacity building” approach to actively involve a community, promoting the use of local knowledge, avoiding dependency and strengthening the sustainability of the technological solutions. A focus based on a social aspect is adopted, one which takes into account environmental sustainability, economic performance and social justice and highlights the importance of considering the natural and social systems as well as the technical ones to develop coherent philosophies and practices. We present the experience of EWB-Colombia as a case study to discuss good and bad practices.

    This case study allows for a further reflection on the various frontiers that consciously or unconsciously activists enact when conducting cooperation projects. These are:

    • The financial frontier, when only the contribution of one side –the activists– is counted, often because it includes a support from a private firm or company.
    • The epistemic frontier, when researches only take into account the activists version in order to build knowledge of the experience.
    • The engineering school frontier, when these types of experiences are viewed by academic administrators as a diversion of teachers and students from “real” engineering training.
    • The knowledge frontier, when the knowledge deployed and the one gathered during the process is considered non-scientific or sub-scientific.
    • The credit frontier, when is only the activists who get into the airplane and into the pictures, and the community members don’t.

    Most importantly, through this case analysis this paper discusses future developments in engineering knowledge and education based on field practices that truly pave the way to and engineering without borders.

    4. Panelist: Lizzie Brown

    Affiliation: Engineers Without Borders Australia

    Title: Elements of The EWB Challenge and The EWB Journey

    The EWB Challenge: Curriculum that Promote Socially Just Engineering in Australasia

    The Engineers Without Borders Australia Challenge (EWB Challenge) is an Australasian design program for first-year university students. It is a unique Australasian example of a national-scale initiative focused on the development of graduate attributes related to the social, cross cultural and ethical responsibilities of engineers in a global context. The EWB Challenge was established by EWB in 2007 with support from Engineers Australia, The Australian Council of Engineering Deans and the Australasian Association for Engineering Education. Since then, the EWB Challenge has involved 18,000 students at thirty-one universities in Australia and New Zealand. A large proportion of the participating students are undertaking a Bachelor of Engineering degree. Each year, the EWB Challenge design brief invites students to develop conceptual designs for a new range of projects identified by EWB in conjunction with its community development program partners. Projects range from water supply and quality to sanitation, waste management, energy supply, transport, permaculture and infrastructure development.

    This paper provides an overview of the development and implementation of EWB Challenge. In particular, it will demonstrate how a partnership between the non-profit sector, universities and engineering industry can be used to introduce and support curriculum which promotes socially just engineering.

    The EWB Journey: Engaging the Australian Engineering Sector in Meaningful Volunteer Opportunities

    Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) works both within Australia and abroad to improve the knowledge and physical resources of people in need through grassroots engineering programs. Our focus is on capacity building within communities, sharing technology and expertise to improve the livelihood of our community partners. We also aim to educate Australian engineering students, professionals and the wider community on issues of sustainable development, appropriate technology, poverty and the plight of disadvantaged people around the world. In Australia, our activities include workshops, lectures, fundraisers, discussion groups, seminars and a national conference.

    This paper describes how EWB engages individuals and engineering companies in learning opportunities and projects with communities and complimentary development organisations to achieve environmentally sustainable, socially responsible and economically viable solutions. It will provide an overview of the EWB Journey starting with community service learning projects for university students and mentored volunteer placements for young professionals through to collaborative partnerships with engineering companies that are stimulating a pro-bono culture with the Australian engineering sector.