The objective of this proposal is to initiate research on how compassionate design activities can help develop engineering students’ self and social awareness. Engineers design solutions within complex contexts that often have broader social, political, economic, and environmental impact. However, research has shown a culture of disengagement in the professional formation of engineers. This culture of disengagement is one where engineers often separate the technical aspects of their work from the social context of the solution in an attempt to be impartial and objective in their decision making. Yet the complex social contexts in which engineers design are becoming more and more important as engineered solutions now have an expanding reach in our global society. To more fully engage engineering students’ in social contexts, the work of this proposal will challenge engineering students to be compassionate in their design work to develop solutions that address users’ fears, dignity, freedom, and emotional well-being. For example, they may design cancer diagnostic equipment that moves away from the sterile, robotic aesthetic toward a softer, friendlier experience for these highly emotional situations. The research team is exploring how this kind of design experience develops engineering students’ self and social awareness as well as their overall approach to the engineering design process. The research team is testing these activities in a first-year engineering course as well as sophomore and senior mechanical engineering design courses. A series of surveys, reflection assignments, and interviews are being administered and analyzed to provide insights into the effectiveness of this approach in raising students’ awareness and ability to consider multiple perspectives (an important ability in engineering design).
This plan follows a design research approach and will take place in the PIs design courses for initial testing and preliminary data collection as the team builds toward a larger research proposal. The team will work to address three guiding research questions: RQ1: Does compassionate design enable students to develop self/social awareness?; RQ2: Does compassionate design appeal to a different type of engineering student?; RQ3: How does the compassionate design framework impact the students’ design process? The broader impact of such a professional orientation could attract and retain a new kind of student in engineering as well as promoting a professional orientation that emphasizes the humanitarian values of engineering.
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