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Developing a Socially-Aware Engineering Identity Through Transdisciplinary Learning

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In conjunction with the drive towards human-centered design in engineering education, questions arise regarding how students build and engage a socially-aware engineering identity. In this paper, we describe how students in a transdisciplinary undergraduate program struggle to engage with ontological and epistemological perspectives that draw on that social turn, particularly in relation to human-centered engineering approaches and sociotechnical complexity. We use a critical qualitative meaning reconstruction approach to deeply analyze the meaning-making assumptions of these students to reveal characteristic barriers in engaging with other subjectivities, and related epistemological and ontological claims implicit in these subjectivities. We conclude with implications for encouraging socially-aware identity formation in engineering education.

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Developing a Socially-Aware Engineering Identity Through Transdisciplinary Learning

  1. 1. COLIN M. GRAY & 
 TODD M. FERNANDEZ PURDUE UNIVERSITY DEVELOPING A SOCIALLY-AWARE ENGINEERING IDENTITY THROUGH TRANSDISCIPLINARY LEARNING (BARRIERS TO)
  2. 2. TEXT TECHNOCENTRISM
  3. 3. TEXT TECHNOCENTRISM SOCIO-CULTURAL COMPLEXITY
  4. 4. TEXT TECHNOCENTRISM SOCIO-CULTURAL COMPLEXITY EMPATHY & CARE HUMANISTIC ENGINEERING
  5. 5. SOCIO-CULTURAL COMPLEXITY EMPATHY & CARE HUMANISTIC ENGINEERING } REQUIRES THE TAKING ON OF MULTIPLE (CONFLICTING) PERSPECTIVES
  6. 6. Meaning Reconstruction as an Approach to Analyze Critical Dimensions of HCI Research Abstract A critical tradition has taken hold in HCI, yet research methods needed to meaningfully engage with critical questions in the qualitative tradition are nascent. In this paper, we explore one critical qualitative research approach that allows researchers to probe deeply into the relationships between communicative acts and social structures. Meaning reconstruction methods are described and illustrated using examples from HCI research, demonstrating how social norms can be traced as they are claimed and reproduced. We conclude with implications for strengthening rigorous critical inquiry in HCI research, including the use of extant critical research methods to document transparency and thick description. Author Keywords Critical theory; reconstructive analysis; rigor. ACM Classification Keywords H.5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI): Miscellaneous. Introduction The research landscape of HCI is increasingly shaped by the ways in which social norms, ethics, and values Permission to make digital or hard copies of all or part of this work for personal or classroom use is granted without fee provided that copies are not made or distributed for profit or commercial advantage and that copies bear this notice and the full citation on the first page. Copyrights for components of this work owned by others than the author(s) must be honored. Abstracting with credit is permitted. To copy otherwise, or republish, to post on servers or to redistribute to lists, requires prior specific permission and/or a fee. Request permissions from Permissions@acm.org. CHI'16 Extended Abstracts, May 07 - 12, 2016, San Jose, CA, USA Copyright is held by the owner/author(s). Publication rights licensed to ACM. ACM 978-1-4503-4082-3/16/05…$15.00 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2851581.2892571 Colin M. Gray Purdue University 401 N. Grant Street, Room 355 West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA gray42@purdue.edu Austin L. Toombs Indiana University 901 E. 10th Street Bloomington, IN 47408, USA altoombs@indiana.edu Christian McKay Indiana University 420 N. Walnut Street, Room 114 Bloomington, IN 47404, USA mckayc@indiana.edu alt.chi: Critical Theory and Pedagogy #chi4good, CHI 2016, San Jose, CA, USA 328 THEORETICAL COMMITMENTS AND CRITICAL RESEARCH
  7. 7. THEORETICAL COMMITMENTS AND CRITICAL RESEARCH CRITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY CRITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY (CARSPECKEN, 1996) THEORY OF 
 COMMUNICATIVE ACTION J. HABERMAS SPEECH ACT THEORY J. L. AUSTIN STRUCTURATION A. GIDDENS
  8. 8. HABERMAS’ THREE FORMAL WORLDS ACT OBJECTIVE multiple access “the world” SUBJECTIVE limited access “my world” NORMATIVE should/ought to be “our world” THEORETICAL COMMITMENTS AND CRITICAL RESEARCH
  9. 9. OBJECTIVE multiple access “the world” SUBJECTIVE limited access “my world” NORMATIVE should/ought to be “our world” IDENTITY the kind of person I am “I” ACT THEORETICAL COMMITMENTS AND CRITICAL RESEARCH HABERMAS’ THREE FORMAL WORLDS
  10. 10. THEORETICAL COMMITMENTS AND CRITICAL RESEARCH CRITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY CRITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY (CARSPECKEN, 1996) INTERSUBJECTIVITY Mutual understanding defined by position-taking The intersubjective space forms whenever we act communicatively, and we take on multiple subject positions when communicating.
  11. 11. adapted from Gray (2014) and Gray, Toombs, & Gross (2016) COMMUNICATIVE ACT MEANING FIELD VALIDITY HORIZON OBJECTIVE FOREGROUND INTERMEDIATE BACKGROUND SUBJECTIVE —— IDENTITY —— NORMATIVE AND OR/AND INTERACTIVE SETTING BOUNDED SET OF POSSIBLE MEANINGS FOR A COMMUNICATIVE ACT CONTEXTUALIZED AND VALIDATED THROUGH EXTENSIVE ENGAGEMENT MEANING FIELD | VALIDITY HORIZON
  12. 12. adapted from Gray (2014) and Gray, Toombs, & Gross (2016) COMMUNICATIVE ACT MEANING FIELD VALIDITY HORIZON OBJECTIVE FOREGROUND INTERMEDIATE BACKGROUND SUBJECTIVE —— IDENTITY —— NORMATIVE AND OR/AND INTERACTIVE SETTING WHAT VALIDITY CLAIMS MUST BE ASSUMED TO MAKE THE COMMUNICATIVE ACT 
 INTERNALLY RATIONAL? MEANING FIELD | VALIDITY HORIZON
  13. 13. We describe how students in a transdisciplinary undergraduate program conceived of barriers to transdisciplinary thinking and action, including the role of information and user research. We identify the identification, acquisition, and activation of multiple disciplinary and interpersonal identities which often conflict. We explore these conflicts through the lens of epistemological and ontological assumptions using a critical qualitative meaning reconstruction approach, revealing how students developed their own humanistically-informed engineering identity and struggled to engage with disciplinary or designerly ontologies.
  14. 14. TRANSDISCIPLINARY 
 UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM TECHNICAL FOCUS “HUMANITIES” FOCUS STUDIO + SEMINAR PEDAGOGIES RESEARCH CONTEXT
  15. 15. TRANSDISCIPLINARY 
 UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM TECHNICAL FOCUS “HUMANITIES” FOCUS STUDIO + SEMINAR PEDAGOGIES FALL 
 2014 SPRING 
 2015 FALL 
 2015 SPRING 
 2016 FALL 
 2016 SPRING 
 2017 RESEARCH CONTEXT
  16. 16. #1 integration of disciplines “not allowed” #2 empathy bounded by worldview #3 conflicting worldviews result in paralysis VIGNETTEVIGNETTE VIGNETTE
  17. 17. #1 integration of disciplines “not allowed” #2 empathy bounded by worldview #3 conflicting worldviews result in paralysis VIGNETTEVIGNETTE VIGNETTE
  18. 18. 
 When I start finding [relevant resources] it could go very well, but as soon as I find that one source that is the contradiction to the entire thing that I'm writing about, or working on a project about… It doesn’t matter when I find it. For our project if I had found something that said music people want to recycle or with this statement how [the likelihood of recycling is] 67% and not 30%....you start getting this idea in your head that your project has no meaning anymore. There wasn't a problem in the first place.
 
 That's why I was kind of laughing with [Ralph’s] and my project, when we started finding information about privacy. Where people were already aware of the fact that was completely a contradiction to ours, and it complete[ly] demolished our project. 
 I think another thing that also, [is] not necessarily a specific article that confirms or denies, or something like that. When you get overwhelmed with varying or a wide variety of different reasons for something. And they all seem super credible […] you have all the information. You get too many varying perspectives on one thing. It makes you just not want to approach a problem at all sometimes.
 
 When there's too much information, it's an overload of ideas about why things are working, you don't feel you can tackle them all, or approach any one of them confident that it's the best method. That also is a good method of shutting it down. DANIEL MIKE
  19. 19. [possible psychological state: frustrated]   Quantitative information that conflicts with our framing of the problem is problematic. OR/AND Quantitative information is easily compared. AND/OR Quantitative information that conflicts proves our project is worthless OR/AND Conflicting information results in a stalemate and inhibits project work from proceeding. AND/OR Information trumps ideas. OR/AND Contradicting information has more weight than individual ideas. OR/AND You cannot do anything if you have conflicting information. AND/OR Information is true. OR/AND Information can indicate the lack of a problem. AND/OR Conflict about the form of a problem invalidates the underlying problem. OR/AND Information can be compared with other information without any other considerations. AND/OR Information shares the same underlying ontological and epistemological assumptions. MIKEDANIEL [possible psychological state: confused]   Multiple perspectives that conflict are problematic for the overall project. OR/AND Perspectives are difficult to compare with each other. OR/AND Too many perspectives result in designer paralysis. OR/AND Too many varying perspectives result in a stalemate and inhibits project work from proceeding. AND/OR Only a small number of perspectives can be taken into account. OR/AND You cannot do anything if you have conflicting information. AND/OR Conflicting perspectives represent different understandings of the same reality. AND/OR Multiple perspectives can be credible and equally “true.” OR/AND One perspective must be selected as a “best method” or approach. AND/OR Other perspectives are excluded when one perspective is selected.  
  20. 20. [possible psychological state: frustrated]   Quantitative information that conflicts with our framing of the problem is problematic. OR/AND Quantitative information is easily compared. AND/OR Quantitative information that conflicts proves our project is worthless OR/AND Conflicting information results in a stalemate and inhibits project work from proceeding. AND/OR Information trumps ideas. OR/AND Contradicting information has more weight than individual ideas. OR/AND You cannot do anything if you have conflicting information. AND/OR Information is true. OR/AND Information can indicate the lack of a problem. AND/OR Conflict about the form of a problem invalidates the underlying problem. OR/AND Information can be compared with other information without any other considerations. AND/OR Information shares the same underlying ontological and epistemological assumptions. MIKEDANIEL [possible psychological state: confused]   Multiple perspectives that conflict are problematic for the overall project. OR/AND Perspectives are difficult to compare with each other. OR/AND Too many perspectives result in designer paralysis. OR/AND Too many varying perspectives result in a stalemate and inhibits project work from proceeding. AND/OR Only a small number of perspectives can be taken into account. OR/AND You cannot do anything if you have conflicting information. AND/OR Conflicting perspectives represent different understandings of the same reality. AND/OR Multiple perspectives can be credible and equally “true.” OR/AND One perspective must be selected as a “best method” or approach. AND/OR Other perspectives are excluded when one perspective is selected.   MIKE PERSPECTIVE 1 PERSPECTIVE ... PERSPECTIVE 3 PERSPECTIVE 2 DANIEL PERSPECTIVE 1 PERSPECTIVE 2
  21. 21. DISCUSSION ▸ Students were generally able to live and work comfortably within what they could frame as their objective world. ▸ However, the students’ version of an objective world often assumed a fusion of their own subjective world and objective truth. ▸ This assumed fusion created cognitive dissonance when students attempted to be “transdisciplinary.” ▸ Students’ engagement with the multi-/inter-/trans-disciplinary nature of wicked problems (e.g., multiple stakeholders, conflicting user views, varying contexts) resulted in frustration and paralysis.
  22. 22. DISCUSSION A lack of intersubjective space formed what we term a 
 FIXED SUBJECTIVE SPACE RALPH INTERVIEWEE RALPH assumed overlap expand designer’s horizon create overlap on designer’s terms INTERVIEWEE EMPATHICBARRIER
  23. 23. NEXT STEPS ▸ Contradictions among disciplinary perspectives must be explicitly confronted, not left for students to discover and sort out—the practice of “designerly behaviors” is not sufficient. ▸ More research is needed to clarify how educators might shift students’ ontological perspectives, particularly at the intersection of subjective and objective realities.
  24. 24. COLIN M. GRAY
 colingray.me
 gray42@purdue.edu TODD M. FERNANDEZ 
 toddfernandezinc.com
 tfernan@purdue.edu THANK YOU

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