Share the Future IV

Developing a Philosophy of Practicea New Approach to Curricular Evolution in Engineering Education
Jay K. Martin, John W. Mitchell, and Dayle Haglund
University of Wisconsin Madison


The objective for this workshop is to have participants experience a process for producing evolutionary change in curricula or programs. For example, the process consists of

  1. Systematically determining the guiding educational philosophy for a curriculum,
  2. Reviewing the current content of the curriculum to see if the curriculum is actually meeting the educational philosophy that has been established,
  3. Reviewing methods for teaching the content that are currently used and exploring those that could be used, and
  4. Discussing the means for continuous assessment of the curriculum.

This workshop will consist of the presentation of a topic (e.g. freshman year curriculum) common to the participants. The participants would be divided into small groups to discuss and develop an educational philosophy for the freshman year. Readings would be provided to each of the groups on some aspect of the topic; the participants would then read the materials, reflect on them, and then discuss how the ideas relate to the educational objectives. A set of questions would also be given to the participants, such as "What role should projects play in the education of freshmen engineers?" Each of the groups would summarize their discussion. The groups would convene again to discuss how to implement the philosophy in a curriculum. Finally, participants would develop a personal plan for the implementation of the ideas to which they have been exposed in the workshop.

This methodology is based on workshops that have been used in topic miniconferences (first year, energy stem in mechanical engineering) and by an engineering department (University of Wisconsin Mechanical Engineering). The idea is to give the participants an opportunity to experience the essential elements, while realizing a two-hour workshop cannot capture the full flavor of a two-day meeting.

Learning Objectives
The learning objectives are to have the participants realize that what is often missing from efforts at motivating curriculum evolution is what Parker Palmer refers to as "the work behind the work." The work behind the work entails a focused and potentially harsh look at current practice. It involves critical reflection about the ways in which you have and have not achieved what you hoped to achieve. It involves noticing the shortcomings and wrestling with large questions like "What is education for?"

Further, participants will realize that efforts to foster change in education must be holistic in approach. The process must consider all aspects of the educational experience, including pedagogy, disciplinary history and culture, content, teacher/learner interactions, cocurricular experiences, and educational philosophy, and that these must be looked at in relation to one another.

Participants will realize that many practical barriers need to be overcome in order to implement and embed curricular evolution and will discuss these. For example, faculty and others in the university are typically asked to make decisions about the curriculum in an environment least likely to foster creativity and expansive thinking. They are asked to do this when they are tired, in need of information, and without facilitation to assist them in making decisions in a group where opinions are strongly held and hotly contested.


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