Teaching STS to Engineers: A Comparative Study of Embedded STS Programs
The field of Science, Technology, and Society (STS) draws from a full range of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities to examine how science and technology simultaneously shape and are shaped by society, including politics and culture. Although engineering educators and employers have recognized the importance of professional (nontechnical) skills for over 100 years, the instructional strategies and institutional arrangements necessary to help students develop these skills have not yet settled into a widely adopted standard. Many engineering programs have turned to STS to provide students with conceptual tool kits to think about engineering problems and solutions in more sophisticated ways. Some programs feature standalone courses on the sociocultural aspects of technology and engineering, often taught by faculty from outside the engineering school. Others incorporate STS material into traditional engineering courses, e.g., by making ethical or societal impact assessments part of capstone projects.
This work in progress paper draws on the research team’s personal experience to examine the character of an atypical, but potentially very powerful, model: STS programs embedded in engineering schools in the United States and Canada. The authors expand on previous scholarship by Kathryn Neeley, Caitlin Wylie, and Bryn Seabrook in “In Search of Integration: Mapping Conceptual Efforts to Apply STS to Engineering Education,” as presented at the 2019 ASEE annual conference, to examine how STS is incorporated in engineering education. While Neeley, Wylie, and Seabrook focused on broad trends within a single, large professional society (ASEE), this study focuses on two particular embedded STS programs, with an emphasis on how the research team describes STS for engineers and encourages meaningful integration.
What does the field of STS offer engineering students? What core STS concepts and approaches do we teach to engineering students? The authors explore these and other related questions by analyzing how a small sample of programs became embedded within engineering schools, how each program attends to accreditation outcomes, and how they approach teaching STS to engineers. In future work, the research team hopes to create a preliminary typology of embedded STS programs, explore the term “embedded,” and find commonalities in the courses offered in embedded programs.
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