Bridging the Gap

The last session at the GrATE Teach-in a few weeks ago was titled bridging the gap, and focused on how we can teach social responsibility in engineering courses. This topic is of particular interest to me since I am planning to become a professor in Civil Engineering and we have discussed the topic of ethics a lot both in PFP and Gedi. Every time we discuss this topic I look back at my undergraduate career and try to remember when engineering was brought up in the classroom (which was not often). But everytime we discuss it in PFP, Gedi and even in this workshop it gives me a lot of hope for the future. It looks like they are really trying to change the Intro to Engineering course to be more focused on ethics and real world engineering problems which is great! When I was a freshman this course was known as the weed out course and everyone dreaded taking it but now it seems like they are trying to make it more engaging while still challenging.

Some of the challenges discussed for this Intro course were:

  1. A divers group of instructors
  2. A divers group of students
  3. Lots of both – about 1,200 + students and this number grows every year – making it difficult to have filed trips/real world events

The facilitator of this discussion talked about a workshop that he was involved in a couple of weeks ago where the goal was to produce new resources for engineering instructors to use in the classroom. He mentioned two activities that they did during the workshop that could be used in the classroom to engage the students

  1. Walk around the building (Goodwin Hall) and be mindful of the space and determine:
    • Aspects of the space that enable or disable certain activities/interaction
    • Design constraints that might have resulted in the spaced being this way
  2. Show and tell
    • Bring in an object that brings you anger/frustration or a joyful experience
    • Why was it designed this way?
    • What makes it difficult or easy to use?
    • What should have been done in the design phase to improve this

We did activity 2 during our workshop on Tuesday and it lead to a very interesting discussion on why companies would design certain products the way they do. For example someone talked about how the cable box provided by cable companies are pretty much just a black box, if something goes wrong with your cable there is nothing you can do to fix it except call the company or try turning the box off and on.  We also came to the conclusion that the majority of design constraints have to do with money or making more money in the long run (like how apple makes phones that only last about two years or can’t handle to newer updates, forcing you to buy a new phone more frequently).

I think these were really great exercises that will help engage freshman undergraduate students and hopefully let them see how what they end up doing as a professional engineer effects the people they are serving.

 

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