30 SES 13 A, Higher Education for Sustainability: Session 2
Technological change can both increase and reduce social inequality. Rapid technological development improves the daily lives of billions of people around the globe; at the same time, advanced technologies often disproportionally benefit more affluent populations (Cozzens & Thakur 2014). Reducing social inequalities requires that those who develop and implement new technologies, for example engineers, are trained to consider the societal effects of technological change. They also need to be trained to actively take measures to increase the possibilities for new technologies to contribute to equality rather than inequality, for example through training in ethical reflection. This need to train engineering students to contribute to social justice and sustainability is widely recognized in the engineering education community (ABET 2016; EESD 2004) and many engineering degrees around the world include one or several mandatory course modules on ethics and/or sustainability. Unfortunately, this approach is not always successful. In fact, recent studies of engineering education in different national contexts (e.g. in the US, South Africa, and Sweden) suggest that students, on average, become lessinterested in contributing to social welfare during the course of their engineering studies than they were when they started their studies. This decline in students’ interest in contributing to social welfare can be explained by the fact that, in university level engineering education, technical concerns are typically constructed as different and separate from societal concerns: technical concerns are considered important while societal concerns are constructed as marginal to engineering education (Allie et al. 2009; Cech 2014; Lönngren 2017). However, the discursive processes through which societal concerns are constructed as marginal in engineering education are not yet well-understood. To address this gap, the author is conducting an ethnographic study in an engineering degree in Sweden. This proposal is based on a part of that study, focusing specifically on discursive constructions of the importance of ethical reflection in an introductory engineering course.
Exploring the processes and structures through which societal concerns are constructed as marginal in engineering education requires close observation of students’ and teachers’ day-to-day interactions. Therefore, an ethnographic approach (Hammersley & Atkinson 2007) has been chosen. For a period of approximately eleven weeks, the author acted as a participant observer in formal lectures, seminars, project work, as well as informal student-welcome activities. During these observations, the author produced ethnographic jottings that included information about, for example, student-teacher interaction, student-student interaction, short verbal quotes from students and teachers, spatial configurations, and the author’s own feelings and impressions in reaction to the observed activities. As soon as possible after each observed activity, the author expanded the jottings to detailed ethnographic field notes (Emerson et al. 2011). In addition, selected lectures and seminars were audio-recorded and transcribed for detailed analysis. The author has also conducted semi-structured, audio-recorded interviews with students and teachers, and she has collected lecture handouts, student essays, and course and program descriptions. For this proposal, the most important data are field notes and audio-recordings from lectures and seminars on ethical dilemmas, interviews with teachers who were responsible for those lectures and seminars, student essays on ethical dilemmas, and extracts from interviews with students in which they talked about their experiences of lectures, seminars and assignments on ethical dilemmas. Relevant data excerpts are identified through inductive thematic analysis of all empirical material. Selected data is then further analysed using discourse analytic concepts (Jørgenssen & Phillips 2002). For example, Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985) concept of articulation is used to understand how ethical reflection is constructed in relation to engineering and engineering education.
Data analysis is on-going and expected to be finished before the conference. Preliminary analysis suggests that there may be a tension between, on the one hand, program directors’ and teachers’ explicit intentions to train students in ethical reflection, and, on the other hand, the actual articulation of ethical reasoning in an introductory engineering course. The preliminary analysis suggests that, despite teachers’ explicit intentions to highlight the importance of ethical reflection, both students and teachers may construct ethical reflection as something that is 1. not very difficult, 2. not an important part of the educational program, and 3. not an important part of the students’ future professional lives. The final results are expected to provide detailed descriptions of the discursive processes through which ethical reasoning may be constructed as easy and unimportant in this educational context. The results will also point to ways in which ethical reasoning could have been constructed as more important in this context – and thus how they can be constructed as important in other engineering programs in Sweden and abroad.
ABET (2016) Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs. Baltimore. Allie et al. (2009) Learning as acquiring a discursive identity through participation in a community: improving student learning in engineering education, European Journal of Engineering Education, 34(4): 359-367. Atkinson P. & Hammersley M. (2007) Ethnography: Principles in Practice. London: Routledge. Bielefeldt A. & Canney N. (2016) Changes in the Social Responsibility Attitudes of Engineering Students Over Time. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22: 1535-1551. Cech E. (2014) Culture of Disengagement in Engineering Education? Science, Technology and Human Values, 39(1): 42-72. Cozzens S. & Thakur, D. (2014) Innovation and inequality: Emerging technologies in an unequal world. Elgar Publ. EESD (2004) Declaration of Barcelona. Retrieved 02 28 2017, http://eesd15.engineering.ubc.ca/declaration-of-barcelona/. Emerson et al. (2011) Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. 2nd ed. UCP. Haase S. (2014) Engineering students’ sustainability approaches. European Journal of Engineering Education, 39(3): 247-271. Jørgenssen, M.W. & Phillips, L.J. (2002). Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method. Sage. Kloot, B. & Rouvrais, S. (2017) The South African engineering education model with a European perspective: history, analogies, transformations and challenges. European Journal of Engineering Education, 42(2) :188-202. Laclau, E. & Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. Verso. Lönngren, J. (2017). Wicked Problems in Engineering Education: Preparing Future Engineers to Work for Sustainability. Chalmers University of Technology. Gothenburg: Chalmers.
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