Engineering Design: Diverse Design Teams to Solve Real-World Problems: Any Technology Education Program Seeking to Increase Enrollment from Underrepresented Populations Should Consider This Constructivist Approach to Teaching Engineering Design

By McSpadden, Moira; Kelley, Todd R. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Engineering Design: Diverse Design Teams to Solve Real-World Problems: Any Technology Education Program Seeking to Increase Enrollment from Underrepresented Populations Should Consider This Constructivist Approach to Teaching Engineering Design


McSpadden, Moira, Kelley, Todd R., Technology and Engineering Teacher


INTRODUCTION

It is well documented that there is a disproportionate number of males pursuing engineering and technology careers when compared to their female counterparts (Milgram, 2011). Furthermore, this imbalance occurs in enrollment in STEM-focused courses at the secondary level (Committee on Science and Technology, 2009). In technology education, a number of studies indicate that the field also suffers from disproportionate numbers of males enrolling in engineering/technology education classes compared to female secondary students. Although these facts are well documented and are considered an area of concern for the field of technology education, the trend continues.

Some recent articles have proposed methods to recruit more females into technology education (Milgram, 2011 ; Zywno, Gilbride, Hiscodes, Waalen, and Kennedy, 1999). However, very little has been written about the impact on the classroom culture, especially in terms of how this can impact the diversity of student design teams. In this article, the authors will present a new approach to teaching design through the study of a real-world local or global problem that can be improved through engineering design. Through these real-world engineering problems, students are given opportunities to explore the cultural, social, political, and environmental aspects embedded within the problem. Personal accounts from a student perspective of this new learning approach to engineering design will be provided to show how team members have been affected.

BACKGROUND

The U.S. Department of Education for technical education studies at the secondary level gives visibility to these figures, with only 15% of students in engineering technology studies being female (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

Females' preference for how STEM-related technology can be used to make a difference, and males' preference for technology itself and how it works, is generally consistent with gender stereotypes (Weber and Custer, 2005; de Vise, 2012). This is readily seen when the design activities include a focus on problem solving or socially relevant issues. Traditional industrial arts activities have often tended to deemphasize the design and social aspects of "making," typically with students required to work from predetermined project plans (Weber and Custer, 2005). To make contemporary technology education courses hold more balance between these preferences, a change needs to be made in how engineering design is approached in the secondary classroom so that both genders will feel more connected to studies in engineering.

AN ENGINEERING DESIGN APPROACH TO TEACHER EDUCATION

The Engineering/Technology Teacher Education program at Purdue University has an introduction to engineering design course--a required course that is designed to give preservice technology teachers the opportunity to develop the skills required to teach engineering design in middle and high school settings. The major design project for the class is an open-ended, real-world design problem that allows the students to apply their technology knowledge and skills, with the goal of solving a problem experienced in society, either locally or globally. Class lectures and projects along the way were designed to support the completion of the project. Some of the topics that were covered in lectures and various assignments included:

* An overview of engineering design processes (ITEA/ITEEA 2000/2002/2007, p 97; Eide, Jenison, Mashaw, Northup, 2002).

* Defining the problem (letter of intent, design brief) (ITEA/ ITEEA 2000/2002/2007, p 97).

* Maintaining an engineering notebook (ITEA/ITEEA 2000/2002/2007, p 97).

* A review of appropriate technology (ITEA/ITEEA 2000/2002/2007, p 104).

* Identifying and defining project constraints and project criteria (ITEA/ITEEA 2000/2002/2007, p 97, 105).

Using a constructivist approach, students were allowed to self-identify a problem to solve through the use of an engineering design approach (Kelley and Kellam, 2009). …

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