Ph.D. Candidate in Science Education and Learning Sciences,
The merit of Contextual Social Awareness: Enriching engineering education by bridging technical and social aspects
What counts as engineering learning? The training of engineers often focuses on technical aspects, relegating the role of diversity and broader social issues to a second place. Recognizing the importance of acquiring disciplinary knowledge, this work argues to expand our notions of engineering epistemology and what it means to become an engineer. Specifically, it suggests incorporating the role of context in developing solutions. The study examines how the hybrid use of technical and social dimensions in the engineering classroom frames students’ design considerations. Drawing on sociocultural theories from the learning sciences, it investigates different dimensions that participants ponder in their design. Data sources include students’ responses to a problem before and after an engineering course on equity, diversity, and culture. Using a mixed methods approach, the analysis suggests a statistically significant increase in students’ considerations regarding the experiences of communities impacted by or involved in their designs, such as the role of segregation or the identities of engineers. To capture these changes, a new variable of Contextual Social Awareness (CSA) is introduced. The study highlights the generative potential of contextualizing design and explicitly connecting social and technical aspects. It offers a pathway for students to develop a broader understanding of what it means to know engineering and to be an engineer. This work does not challenge the crucial role of acquiring technical knowledge but seeks to enrich engineering learning by bridging the diverse practices of the field and the communities.