Engineering students in the United States are typically educated in a way that prioritizes the technical aspects of engineering problems while neglecting or not fully incorporating sociotechnical considerations. Prior research has proposed the idea that aspiring engineers require an understanding of how engineering practice occurs beyond the classroom and past the technical-heavy course load. The current emphasis in engineering courses privileges the technical and excludes and/or renders irrelevant the social dimensions of problem definitions and solutions, reinforcing social-technical dualism and providing an inaccurate portrayal of how engineering exists in the “real world.”
The application of sociotechnical integration, to bridge the divide between the social and technical within engineering education, continues to be an area of interest for engineering educators and researchers in the quest to more effectively prepare future engineers. It further seeks to raise awareness of the importance of having a sociotechnical perspective within engineering design . Additional research underscores the importance of sociotechnical integration in the education of future engineers, through emphasizing both social and technical contributions of their work  and the ways in which they cannot be separated.  One challenge involved with this kind of integration is determining how it can most effectively be implemented for engineering students, particularly given the content-heavy nature of most engineering courses. Real-world examples within technical driven courses are frequently employed by engineering educators to promote effective learning and increase student interest and motivation , but sometimes these real-world examples remain highly techno-centric.
This paper strives to answer the following research questions:
1) What types and characteristics of real-world examples in engineering courses facilitate sociotechnical thinking?
2) From the student perspective, how can real-world examples more effectively promote sociotechnical thinking?
In this paper, we will attempt to analyze the similarities and differences between real-world engineering examples and sociotechnical thinking while also investigating what is broadly considered a “real-world example” in the engineering education literature. The way in which these examples are presented within classrooms will be analyzed to determine whether their implementation can be considered sociotechnical integration. We will use two sources of data to answer our research questions: 1) prior theoretical frameworks and pedagogical studies in the engineering education research and 2) qualitative data from an ongoing research project investigating sociotechnical integration in core engineering courses. These engineering courses consist of years 1, 2, and 3 of the engineering curricula at two universities. The qualitative data take the form of focus groups with engineering students and data from an in-class assignment focused on sociotechnical integration. These data sources give further insight on how real-world examples affect student learning and motivation, especially as they relate to sociotechnical thinking.
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 Gero, A., Stav-Satuby, Y., and Yamin, N., “Use of real world examples in engineering education: The case of the course Electric Circuit Theory.” World Transactions on Engineering and Technology Education (2017).
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