Don't Fear the Engineer: Social Science Students Exploring a Liminal Space with Engineering Students
Conference contribution, 2014
Engineering students learning, in interdisciplinary courses, to consider the social context of their work, need to learn how to think in ways more familiar to social scientists. In our previous work we have shown that this can cause concern and potential trouble as they traverse a liminal space (Kabo and Baillie, 2010). However, we have found that there are just as many, albeit different, thresholds to cross for social science students taking the same class.
During two iterations of the course we conducted interviews with students and analysed their critical self-reflections. During this analysis it became apparent to us that most of the social scientists in the class had no or little actual understanding of what engineering really entails and often had quite negative perceptions of it. For these students, the course offered an opportunity to work with engineering students in a constructive manner that in many cases resulted in the breaking down of (negative) stereotypes of engineers and engineering. This is an important first step toward grasping any positive potential engineering has to offer. Some social science students moved beyond the breaking down of negative stereotypes to the realisation that engineering can play a positive role in the creation of viable alternatives to current practices and that engineers possess skills and ways of thinking that complement those of social scientists in a potentially beneficial way. Our findings indicate that understanding engineering and engineers can serve as a threshold that social scientists students working in an interdisciplinary context with engineering students need to cross for the possibility of true interdisciplinary, rather than multidisciplinary, collaboration to take place. A central aspect of this crossing is to negotiate together with engineers what engineering means and can mean.
social science students