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Student Perceptions of First-Year Engineering Justice Curriculum

Student Perceptions of First-Year Engineering Justice Curriculum

This complete research paper will describe our qualitative analysis of the impacts of a first-year engineering course which includes curricular elements of social justice, social responsibility, and ethics. We present our interpretation of four interesting results that came out of our mixed-methods study (n=231) in which we surveyed students taking a first-year engineering course on their perceptions of the role of engineering in society and the world. We find that while a single course is unlikely to be sufficient to greatly influence student perceptions, for some sub-groups, the influence was greater than for the study sample as a whole. We specifically highlight four notable findings and discuss their implications.

Devin Berg

June 23, 2020
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  1. Student Perceptions of
    First-Year Engineering
    Justice Curriculum
    Devin R. Berg, Tina Lee, and Elizabeth Buchanan
    University of Wisconsin – Stout
    This material is based upon work supported by the National
    Science Foundation under Grant No. 1540301. Any opinions,
    findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this
    material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect
    the views of the National Science Foundation.

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  2. There is growing interest in ethics, social justice, and
    professional responsibility in the engineering curriculum.
    • Curriculum breadth leaves little room for exploration in depth.
    • Students often lack training for service-learning activities.
    • Knowledge transfer in these areas often under resourced and
    outcomes difficult to measure.

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  3. Acknowledge the limitations of our assessment methods.
    • Prior work has shown that our ability to measure the efficacy
    of ethics and social justice curriculum in engineering is limited.
    • Mixed methods show the greatest likelihood of increasing our
    understanding of the results.
    • Studies with longer timescales have shown greater realization
    of learning outcomes in these areas.

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  4. In this work, we attempt to develop an understanding of the
    influence of a first-year course on student perceptions.
    • The course addresses topics in social justice, social
    responsibility, and ethics.
    • Course is required and taken by all engineering (5 programs)
    students at the institution.
    • The course lays the groundwork for further engineering
    curriculum later in the engineering programs.

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  5. Mixed methods were used to help broaden our
    understanding of the student outcomes.
    • A survey instrument was composed of the Sustainability Skills
    and Dispositions Scale (SSDS) and the Engineering Professional
    Responsibility Assessment (EPRA). [n=231]
    • Quantitative results presented previously.
    • Results here focus on the qualitative responses.

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  6. Mixed methods were used to help broaden our
    understanding of the student outcomes.
    • Two open-ended survey questions:
    • Briefly describe any events that have influenced your views of community
    service and social responsibility.
    • Has this course influenced you views of yourself as an engineering
    professional or your views of the world? If so, please explain.
    • A small number [n=4] of one-on-one interviews also
    conducted.

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  7. Limitation: Our study group does not represent the diversity
    of the global engineering student body.
    The students in our final sample are overwhelmingly male
    (87.4%) and white (88.3%), largely not first-generation students
    (75.7%), and between the ages of 18 and 20 (78.7%).

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  8. Males generally rated the metrics measured by both the SDSS
    and EPRA lower than females on both the pre and post
    surveys.

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  9. Students who self-identified as belonging to a racial or ethnic
    minority decreased in their SDSS global awareness and felt
    less sure that engineering could be used to help people from
    pre to post while white students did not.

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  10. First-generation students showed greater gains in cultural
    awareness, ethics, and societal context than non-first-
    generation students, who actually showed slight decreases in
    the latter two metrics from pre to post.

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  11. Students who rated future earning potential as less important
    to their decision to pursue an engineering career started the
    course higher and stayed higher on SDSS-measured
    confidence, global awareness, social awareness, and
    environmental awareness.

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  12. In some instances, specific sub-groups of students were more
    receptive than others to the course curriculum and thus their
    perceptions changed as a result.
    • This was particularly true for students who identified as
    female or first-generation and those who placed less
    importance on future earnings.
    • Conversely, we also found that students who identified as
    racial or ethnic minorities decreased in their awareness of
    global issues and less confident that engineering can have an
    impact on the issues facing society.

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