Theorizing the role of engineering for society: technological activity in context?
Gumaelius, Lena B.
Pears, Arnold Neville
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This paper establishes a theoretical position from which to analyse and reason about the difficulties associated with closing the gap between the provision of engineering education in universities and the needs of society. Broadly speaking, the disparity between societal expectations and university graduate profiles highlights that despite achieving success in university; recently graduated engineers are often under-prepared for their initial years in the workplace. Continuing reports of this disparity suggest that current efforts have not succeeded in sufficiently closing this gap. As an antecedent to reforming engineering education policy or advocating a new pedagogical approach, we first theorise the role of engineering education for society. In adopting lessons from the philosophy of technology and how this has influenced the discourse surrounding K-12 technology education, the relationship between technological activity and technological knowledge is considered as a vessel though which to articulate engineering education. Through situating engineering disciplines as different contexts for technology, the need for engineering students to develop an ontological position towards engineering as technological activity, emerges as important. In this view, we hold that a fluid epistemological boundary for engineering disciplines necessitates perspectives on how to enact engineering, as doing engineering in authentic contexts is advocated to support the well-established practices around learning about discipline specific declarative knowledge. The foregrounding of an understanding of engineering as technological activity, founded on (but not limited to) well-established discipline specific knowledge is framed as an ‘ontology-based curriculum’. We conclude the paper with a discussion of some of the prevailing challenges to operationalising this conception of engineering education for society
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