What Engineers Don't Learn


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SPT.org session at Chicago AmPhilAssoc meeting April 2008.

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  • What Engineers Don't Learn

    1. 1. David E. Goldberg Industrial & Enterprise Systems Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, IL 61801 USA [email_address]
    2. 2. <ul><li>in an APA conference like this? </li></ul><ul><li>October 2006, philosophers & engineers met at MIT & agreed to hold Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering (WPE-2007, Oct 2007). </li></ul><ul><li>Was a co-organizer and Diane Michelfelder asked me to come. </li></ul><ul><li>Better answer: Philosophers have something important to say to engineering right now. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    3. 3. <ul><li>Philosophers and engineers as strange bedfellows. </li></ul><ul><li>Why philosophy, why now? The creative era hypothesis. </li></ul><ul><li>Kuhn: Philosophy as response to crisis. </li></ul><ul><li>What engineers don’t learn: 6 failures of 21 st century engineering education. </li></ul><ul><li>How they don’t learn it. </li></ul><ul><li>How philosophy might help. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    4. 4. <ul><li>Philosophers </li></ul><ul><li>Humanists </li></ul><ul><li>Contemplative </li></ul><ul><li>Articulate </li></ul><ul><li>Abstract </li></ul><ul><li>Like to argue </li></ul><ul><li>Reflection in itself </li></ul><ul><li>Logical </li></ul><ul><li>Engineers </li></ul><ul><li>Technologists </li></ul><ul><li>Action-oriented </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistically naïve </li></ul><ul><li>Concrete </li></ul><ul><li>Like to agree </li></ul><ul><li>Reflection as instrumental </li></ul><ul><li>Logical </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Why such strange bedfellows talking now?
    5. 5. <ul><li>Technoreconomic forces are encouraging globalization.& shaking things up.. </li></ul><ul><li>Cheap, technical talent hired Shanghai & Bangalore </li></ul><ul><li>The World is Flat, The Rise of the Creative Class, A Whole New Mind. </li></ul><ul><li>Returns to creativity particularly important. </li></ul><ul><li>Ordinary technical skill commoditized. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    6. 6. <ul><li>In creative era, premium on category creators —creators of new categories of products and service. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineers generally enhancers, not creative? (Davis, 1996, 2006). </li></ul><ul><li>This requires different skill set. </li></ul><ul><li>Right-brained thinking: integrative, creative, intuitive. </li></ul><ul><li>MFA + Engineer vs. MBA + Engineer. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    7. 7. <ul><li>Training enhancers by education & practice sharpened in crucible of WW2. </li></ul><ul><li>Bush paradigm: Science: The Endless Frontier. </li></ul><ul><li>Centralized institutions, conformity & specialization dominant. </li></ul><ul><li>World has turned or is turning. </li></ul><ul><li>Current situation disorienting. </li></ul><ul><li>Not unlike crisis of physics at dawn of 20 th century. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Vannevar Bush (1890-1974)
    8. 8. <ul><li>Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: Response to crisis: </li></ul><ul><li>“ I think, particularly in periods of acknowledged crisis that scientists have turned to philosophical analysis as a device for unlocking the riddles of their fields. Some have not generally needed or wanted to be philosophers. Indeed, normal science usually holds creative philosophy at arm’s length, and probably for good reason…But that is not to say that the search for assumptions cannot be an effective way to weaken the grip of a tradition upon the mind and to suggest the basis for a new one.” </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996)
    9. 9. <ul><li>Scientists: New physics was disorienting and scientists turned to philosophy for “foundations.” </li></ul><ul><li>Engineers: Today’s technological world as disorienting as Einstein’s world was to scientists. </li></ul><ul><li>Centripetal force of the Os: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>BiO & nanO: Push toward more science: hypertrophy cold war paradigm. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>InfO: Shift toward new human-centered design  SociOtech or sociOengineering. </li></ul></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    10. 10. <ul><li>How do I know what engineers don’t learn? </li></ul><ul><li>18 years in industrial-based senior design. </li></ul><ul><li>Common patterns in student lack of knowledge and knowhow. </li></ul><ul><li>Also reflected in practicing engineers & subsequent education. </li></ul><ul><li>Vincenti irony. To become E, must unlearn academic training. </li></ul><ul><li>Sequence: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>General engineering, a Ford Foundation grant, and industrial-based senior design. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Six quality failures in engineering education. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What’s philosophy got to do with it? </li></ul></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    11. 11. <ul><li>General Engineering at UIUC established in 1921 following curriculum study. </li></ul><ul><li>Grinter report of 1954 led to more math and engineering science at expense of design. </li></ul><ul><li>UCLA conference 1962. </li></ul><ul><li>Ford Foundation grant 1966. </li></ul><ul><li>Money ran out 1971. </li></ul><ul><li>Industrial funds sought thereafter. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Jerry S. Dobrovolny
    12. 12. Our Project: Force-Feedback from user arms Commercial Cross-trainer 95Xi © David E. Goldberg 2008
    13. 13. <ul><li>These are seniors. </li></ul><ul><li>Should be engineers on the threshold. </li></ul><ul><li>Especially interesting to note what their educations didn’t prepare them for. </li></ul><ul><li>Express preferences for projects. </li></ul><ul><li>Get assigned to a project: 3-member teams & faculty advisor. </li></ul><ul><li>Go on the plant trip. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    14. 14. <ul><li>Don’t know how to frame or ask good questions. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty probing the problem. </li></ul><ul><li>Trouble following what has been tried. </li></ul><ul><li>Problems finding out vendors and sources of information. </li></ul><ul><li>Philosophical terms: Socrates 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Socrates (470-399 BCE)
    15. 15. <ul><li>Questions & conversation is at roots of all new products. </li></ul><ul><li>Research on tech visionaries shows that problem finding is the main activity of successful tech visionaries. </li></ul><ul><li>Spark of insight may come as flash, but dialectic necessary in new product creation. </li></ul><ul><li>Three roles of questions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Probe customers. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Probe organizational hurdles. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Probe product developers. </li></ul></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    16. 16. <ul><li>Don’t know names of common systems, assemblies, and components of technology. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty labeling new artifact concepts or models. </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistically naïve. </li></ul><ul><li>Mainly comfortable with familiar categories and objects. </li></ul><ul><li>Phil terms: Aristotle 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
    17. 17. <ul><li>Pavlovian dogs when it comes to equations. </li></ul><ul><li>Inability to model conceptually: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Causal chain. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Categorize according to list of attributes. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Need to understand problem qualitatively in words and diagrams prior to quantitative modeling undertaken. </li></ul><ul><li>Phil terms: Hume 101, Aristotle 102, or Monge 101? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 David Hume (1711-1776)
    18. 18. <ul><li>Then have trouble decomposing big problem into little problems. </li></ul><ul><li>Look for magic bullets in equations of motion. </li></ul><ul><li>Most projects too hard: Companies don’t pay $8500 for solving Newton’s second laws. </li></ul><ul><li>Phil terms: Descartes 101? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 René Descartes (1596-1650)
    19. 19. <ul><li>Once decomposed, don’t know how to measure stuff. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering taught as abstract exercise. </li></ul><ul><li>So used to thinking in terms of physics and math, ignore direct measurement. </li></ul><ul><li>Phil terms: Locke 101 or Bacon 101? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 John Locke (1632-1704)
    20. 20. <ul><li>Finally finish the project. </li></ul><ul><li>Can’t present. </li></ul><ul><li>Can’t write. </li></ul><ul><li>Coach to successful conclusion. </li></ul><ul><li>“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” </li></ul><ul><li>Phil terms: Newman 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Paul Newman (b. 1925)
    21. 21. <ul><li>After 4 years they </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t question: Socrates 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t label: Aristotle 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t model: Hume 101 & Aristotle 102. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t decompose: Descartes 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t measure: Locke 101 or Bacon 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Can’t communicate: Newman 101 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Industry this would be huge quality failure. </li></ul><ul><li>End of production line to have product so inadequate to task at hand </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    22. 22. <ul><li>Can solve equations. </li></ul><ul><li>Can talk about limited categories of tech discussed in class. </li></ul><ul><li>Can’t think qualitatively or reflectively. </li></ul><ul><li>Heidegger’s beef: Science/tech as merely calculative. </li></ul><ul><li>Not asking for contemplation outside of discipline. </li></ul><ul><li>Let’s walk before running. </li></ul><ul><li>Want qualitative thinking skill to permit problem solving & creativity within discipline. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
    23. 23. <ul><li>Better qualitative reasoning makes better engineers. </li></ul><ul><li>Need to apply to engineering problem solving. </li></ul><ul><li>Politics of change: Engineering faculty want “rigor” and avoid “soft” subjects. </li></ul><ul><li>Philosophy as “legitimate” discipline that engineering faculty members don’t really understand. </li></ul><ul><li>Piloted approach in one-hour course Creative Modeling for Tech Vision. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    24. 24. <ul><li>Introduction </li></ul><ul><li>Macro models of creativity </li></ul><ul><li>Micro models of creativity </li></ul><ul><li>What is a model? What is a TV? </li></ul><ul><li>Construction of engineering reality. </li></ul><ul><li>2 techniques from Athens </li></ul><ul><li>Visualization and napkintalk </li></ul><ul><li>Canonical models </li></ul><ul><li>Facebook case </li></ul><ul><li>Qual-quant shift </li></ul><ul><li>Little models </li></ul><ul><li>Tales from the trenches. </li></ul><ul><li>Squeezing little models. </li></ul><ul><li>Mixed, patched, and meta-models </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    25. 25. <ul><li>Post WW2 pushing of engineering as merely applied science a category error. </li></ul><ul><li>Paying heavy price in many ways. </li></ul><ul><li>Need better understanding of engineering knowledge and method within academic engineering and engineering education. </li></ul><ul><li>Demarcation. Philosophy as aid to clarifying engineering-science-biz distinctions. </li></ul><ul><li>Won’t “settle” the matter, but can add clarity and bolster arguments for paradigm shift. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    26. 26. <ul><li>Gripe: engineers can’t apply basic qualitative thinking skills to novel problems in real world. </li></ul><ul><li>Can average BA/BS do so in any subject? </li></ul><ul><li>Average BA as tech/math/science illiterate. </li></ul><ul><li>Thinking, whether qual or quant, is taught with respect to existing categories of knowledge. </li></ul><ul><li>All students have little practice in solving novel problems. </li></ul><ul><li>Isn’t this a massive failure of general education, too? </li></ul><ul><li>Does philosophy have a role to play here, too? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    27. 27. <ul><li>Why philosophy for engineering now? </li></ul><ul><li>The imperative of a creative era. </li></ul><ul><li>Kuhn: Philosophy as crisis response. </li></ul><ul><li>What engineers don’t learn and how they don’t learn it: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Myth of science post WW2. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Threw out design & practice. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Worship at math/science alter. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>How can philosophy help? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>As effective approach to qualitative thought. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>As one humanities subject not viewed as “soft.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Critical clarification of important distinctions. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Larger questions about general education? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    28. 28. <ul><li>Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering (WPE-2008) </li></ul><ul><li>10-12 November 2008 (Monday-Wednesday). </li></ul><ul><li>The Royal Academy of Engineering, London. </li></ul><ul><li>In cooperation and affiliation with SPT, INES, ASEE, and RAE. </li></ul><ul><li>1-2 page abstracts (~1500 words) due 18 August 2008. </li></ul><ul><li>Escape following US Presidential election. </li></ul><ul><li>Web: http://www-illigal.ge.uiuc.edu/wpe </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
    29. 29. <ul><li>MTV, the course. http://online.engr.uiuc.edu/webcourses/ge498tv/index.html </li></ul><ul><li>TEE, the book. http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470007230.html </li></ul><ul><li>TEE, the blog. www.entrepreneurialengineer.blogspot.com </li></ul><ul><li>TEE, the course. http://online.engr.uiuc.edu/webcourses/ge498tee/index.html </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering and Technology Studies at Illinois (ETSI) http://www-illigal.ge.uiuc.edu/ETSI ). </li></ul><ul><li>Illinois Genetic Algorithms Lab http://www-illigal.ge.uiuc.edu/ </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008