Science and Engineering for Social Justice: Curriculum Development and Student Impact (Work in Progress)
In this work-in-progress, we describe the design and implementation of a novel curriculum that explores social justice in a science and engineering context, with specific focus on race, gender, sexuality, and disability. We emphasize what students can do to advocate for and represent diverse peoples, and to promote social justice through science and engineering practice.
“Science and Engineering for Social Justice” is a 5-credit, writing-intensive, discussion-based course. The first offering is in Fall 2018 with 31 students from both STEM and non-STEM majors.
Throughout the course, we encourage students to critically evaluate how cultural and scientific theories of gender/sex, race, disability, and sexuality influence one another. Students are asked to reflect on who gets to be a scientist or engineer, who defines which questions researchers ask and which problems engineers solve, who benefits from these solutions, and what role social justice plays in science and engineering practice. We explore these inter-related questions:
1) How do our cultural ideas about race, gender, disability and sexuality influence science/engineering knowledge and practice?
2) On the other hand, how does our science/engineering practice influence our cultural ideas about race, gender, disability and sexuality?
3) How can we use science and engineering to promote social justice for all people?
Through the lens of social justice, students reflect on the impact of science and engineering in society through weekly readings and class discussions. In addition, students complete a final paper on a topic of their choice and a team project in which they design a science/engineering solution that promotes social justice.
The authors have previously published work describing pilot efforts to develop a curriculum to explore the interplay of diversity and ethics in engineering in the context of a large introductory bioengineering course [1-2]. Whereas these efforts were intended to serve as model curricula to be implemented in an existing course for early engineering students, here we describe the launch of a stand-alone course available to all undergraduates that highlights the roles scientists and engineers can play in promoting social justice.
We will explore the impact of this new curriculum by analyzing student perceptions of social justice before and after taking the course, and student self-reports on the impact of the course on their ability to identify and approach social justice issues in science and engineering. Assessment of course activities will include written student surveys containing both quantitative and qualitative data, instructor observations, and excerpts of student work. Example curricular materials will be provided at the conference.
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