Bridging cultures

cpsnowAs long ago as 1959, Sir Charles Snow identified two cultures in modern society, which could be summarised as those that understand the consequences of the second law of thermodynamics and those that don’t [see my post entitled Two Cultures on March 5, 2013].

The main aim in writing this blog is to help in bridging the gap between these cultures by commenting on and explaining engineering concepts, ideas and principles in a way that non-engineers can appreciate and might read.  One of the reasons for the gap between the cultures within our society is that ‘technology is really a way of thinking’ [see reference below].  Engineering educators spend a lot of time teaching prospective engineers how to think and, in particular, how to solve engineering problems.  However, these same educators often forget when introducing engineering students  to the principles of engineering for the first time that the students are not familiar with the language or culture.  The students are just starting to cross the gap and their educators, who are on the other side of the gap, fail to appreciate the width of the gap.  The result is that educators fail to engage the students which results in poor recruitment and retention of engineering students.  This failing is recognised by some people, see for instance http://www.engageengineering.org/

One solution to help students cross the gap is to use familiar everyday examples to explain engineering concepts.  I have made a short video about the underlying pedagogy together with some examples that you can find at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAh4QHC8ya0&feature=youtu.be .  There is also a series of booklets [ http://www.engineeringexamples.org/ ] designed to support university teachers who want to teach in this way.  I plan to rewrite the examples in these booklets as periodic posts on this blog for a wider, non-technical audience.  So watch this space!

‘Technology is really a way of thinking’: http://www.atse.org.au/Documents/Publications/Reports/Education/ATSE%20Technology%20Education%20A%20Way%20of%20Thinking%202004.pdf

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