Freshman Engineering Courses align with the critical pedagogical approach

EngE 1215 and 1216 are introductory engineering courses, having innovatively designed curriculum structure that aims to introduce students to the engineering profession. This curriculum structure aligns with almost all the principles of teaching and learning emphasized by Freire. Here I will discuss about these courses and how it engages students to learn critically. Hope the conversations about this approach will help disseminate the idea that can be incorporated in various other engineering courses.

Along with the various learning objectives of both these courses, specifically, instructors in 1215 actively engages students to a systematic engineering problem solving process, while instructors (including me) in 1216 help students to critically navigate through an engineering design process over a semester long project. For both the problem solving process and the engineering design process, students work in a project based learning (PBL) environment solving real-life engineering problems, to which they can connect and that can spark their interest (for example: Sustainable Energy Sources, Water Quality and Quantity effect on Watersheds, Drones, Prosthesis Design etc.). Students here also have the authority to select and define their problem/project under a certain scope. According to research, PBL is an inductive pedagogical approach that helps students to actively, critically and co-operatively engage in the engineering tasks assisting them in developing their engineering technical competency as well as professional skills. Instructors in these courses are trained (through departmental trainings) to act as facilitators (not being authoritarian): scaffolding students through the process, guiding them with probing questions and assisting students in developing metacognitive skills.

Moreover, there are also several other research based components in the curriculum that align with the idea of being “Dialogic” in Critical Pedagogy. Hands-on or critical thinking in-class activities are integrated throughout the curriculum providing instructors to interact with students and helping them in receiving formative feedback, along with the summative feedback after the midterm and final exams. Researchers suggest, these feedback helps in modifying student understands of certain concepts and clears their misunderstanding. Next, team-work is an integral part of this curriculum that forces students to work in an ambience similar to a professional engineering project team. Here students learn to work and learn co-operatively while solving a challenging engineering problem. This assists a student in developing communication skills and team-work skills. Again, throughout these courses students are encouraged to support their arguments with research work going on in the engineering field, exposing them to know and learn about the globally connected engineering workspace. Finally, ethics is tied into the curriculum to encourage students to work by resolving ethical dilemmas and to help them develop ethical reasoning skills that directs them to design/produce ethically viable engineering solutions for the society and specific environment (an idea presented by Freire).

On the other hand, teaching experience in this department assists me and supports me to develop skills for designing a project based classroom and for effectively facilitating students. GTA training programs and weekly meeting are conducted in this department to help instructors and GTAs prepare for the class and reflect on our teaching. We, as instructors are always provided with readings/resources that explain research-based content (for example: metacognition, PBL, product archaeology, Belbin team roles, etc.), helping us to implement them in the classroom. Moreover, strategies to handle issues in classroom (for example: professionalism, student’s less involvement with activities, problem with students who are distracted, etc.) are also discussed for maintaining proper classroom climate. Overall, this department through these courses enriches freshman students with an effective learning experience as well as enhances a teacher’s experience in a wide variety of research based practices of the 21st century.

2 thoughts on “Freshman Engineering Courses align with the critical pedagogical approach”

  1. I like your post. It is to be noted that critical pedagogy in literature classrooms will often combine literary analysis with political action and instructors will deem it a valuable tool to assist the students to move from criticism of a given text to activism in the community. This is often done by instructors promoting their students to investigate practices in a given culture or time period. Critical pedagogy can be adapted to any subject material as it invoke curiosity and the connections to be made as a result.

    I love the fact that you applied this concept to engineering. I wrote a more generic post which can be extended to any major, but your post really hit home for me.

  2. Introductory engineering classes are a really great place for application of Freire’s ideas. So I guess it seems surprising that my experience has been that very few of my engineering classes after these introductory classes also seem to align with Freire’s ideas. So where is that disconnect? Does the subject matter become so dense that professors feel their only option is to rely on lecture?

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