Philosophy and undergraduate teaching and learning: Thoughts and perspectives for engineering education

Heywood, J. (2012) Philosophy and undergraduate teaching and learning: Thoughts and perspectives for engineering education. [Conference Proceedings]


During the last six years there has been growing interest in the development of a philosophy of engineering and a philosophy of engineering education as distinct from a philosophy of science education. There have been several international workshops and a number of papers on these topics that have been presented at the ASEE and Frontiers in Education (FIE) conferences. Those concerned with the philosophy of education have focussed primarily on the contribution that philosophy can make to the design of the curriculum and the use of the philosophical method in the study of engineering. Most of these discussions have been engineering-centric and taken place in the absence of any discussion of the more general aims of higher education. The purpose of this paper is to consider the role that philosophy might play in the achievement of the goals of higher education as expressed by such authorities as John Henry Newman. It is argued that a link between engineering education and these more general goals is to be found in the views of the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray on the relationships between theory, practice and action as expressed in his Gifford Lectures on The Self as Agent and Persons in Relations. It is argued that as much attention needs to be given to the affective domain as it does to the cognitive. Recent research shows the importance of the peer group, together with interaction with faculty to be the most important factors in student achievement and development. Faculty have a major role to play in helping engineering students overcome negative attitudes toward liberalism, as does mixing with students who have other interests. Enlargement of mind is helped by an acquaintance with the perennial problems of philosophy since the answers a person gives to them influence her/his thinking and behaviour. In the discussion that ends the paper, attention is drawn to recent research on the experience of students of their undergraduate education that supports some of the contentions made in this paper. © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education.

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