skip to main content


Title: (Work in Progress) Examining how students critically evaluate racial bias in a medical device in a first-year computing course
Engineering has historically been positioned as “objective” and “neutral” (Cech, 2014), supporting a technical/social dualism in which “hard” technical skills are valued over “soft” social skills such as empathy and team management (Faulkner, 2007). Disrupting this dualism will require us to transform the way that engineering is taught, to include the social, economic, and political aspects of engineering throughout the curriculum. One promising approach to integrating social and technical is through developing students’ critical sociotechnical literacy, supporting students in coming to “understand the intrinsic and systemic sociotechnical relationship between people, communities, and the built environment” (McGowan & Bell, 2020, p. 981). This work-in-progress study is part of a larger NSF-funded research project that explores integrating sociotechnical topics with technical content knowledge in a first-year engineering computing course. This course has previously focused on teaching students how to code, the basics of data science, and some applications to engineering. The revised course engages students in a series of sociotechnical topics, such as analyzing and interpreting data-based evidence of environmental racism. Each week, students read short articles and write reflections to prepare for in-class small group discussions. Near the end of the semester, students examined the topic of racial bias in medical equipment. Students read two popular news articles that discussed differences in accuracies of pulse oximeter readings for patients with different skin tones. We analyze students’ reflection responses for evidence of their developing sociotechnical literacy along three dimensions: (1) bias, (2) differential impact, and (3) responsibility. This exploratory case study employs thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) to analyze the students’ written reflections for this topic. Students reflected on evidence of racial bias and potential causes of bias in the device, how this bias is located in and furthers historical patterns of racism in medicine, and considered who or what might be responsible for either causing or fixing the now-known racial bias.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
2110727
NSF-PAR ID:
10417938
Author(s) / Creator(s):
;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The social/technical dualism in the engineering curriculum leaves students ill-prepared to tackle real-world technical problems in their social, economic, and political contexts (Cech, 2013; Faulkner, 2007; Trevelan, 2010, 2014). Increasingly, students have expressed the desire for their technical courses to show the interplay between social and technical considerations (Leydens & Lucena, 2017), but they have few opportunities to develop these sociotechnical ways of thinking (i.e., values, attitudes, and skills that integrate the social and technical). Instead, students are left to infer engineering as technically neutral through the instructional decisions that make up an engineering curriculum (Cech, 2013; Trevelan, 2014). In this study, we focus on how students understand the role of sociotechnical thinking in engineering. Particularly, this study centers seven minoritized students in an introductory engineering computation class who are pursuing an engineering degree. The study takes place at a medium private university in New England. These seven students are from a group of roughly seventy students split between two of the five sections for the course. These two sections were recently revised to include more sociotechnical readings, discussions, and homework facilitated with learning assistants. We are interested in understanding the self-described sense of belonging that these students feel as they relate it to learning about engineering as a sociotechnical field. While the dualism between engineering's technical and social dimensions has been studied in ASEE LEES papers, articles in Engineering Studies, broader engineering education research, and Science, Technology, and Science publications (e.g., Cech, 2013; Faulkner, 2007; Leydens & Lucena, 2017; Riley, 2017; Wisnioski, 2012), there is a need to connect this vast literature with the similarly extensive research on students' sense of belonging and engineering identity development, specifically for those students who have historically been excluded from engineering. Specifically, we draw on W.E.B. DuBois's notion of a 'double consciousness' from the Souls of Black Folks (1903) as a lens through which to understand how these seven students take on the political, economic, and social dimensions presented to them through a first-year engineering curricular redesign around engineering as sociotechnical. We note the small-n design of this study (Slaton & Pawley, 2018). The seven interviewed students are gender and racial minorities in engineering. However, we note that they do not represent all minoritized students in engineering, and to respect and elevate their experiences, we take a narrative approach. This study is intended to center the perspectives and experiences of these seven students as they navigate an engineering learning environment. We do not intend for the findings to be generalizable or exhaustive but informative as we think about scaling up the sociotechnical curricular redesign in engineering at this university and more broadly. 
    more » « less
  2. Generally, the focus of undergraduate engineering programs is on the development of technical skills and how they can be applied to design and problem solving. However, research has shown that there is also a need to expose students to business and society factors that influence design in context. This technical bias is reinforced by the available tools for use in engineering education, which are highly focused on ensuring technical feasibility, and a corresponding lack of tools for engineers to explore other design needs. One important contextual area is market systems, where design decisions are made while considering factors such as consumer choice, competitor behavior, and pricing. This study examines student learning throughout a third-year design course that emphasizes market-driven design through project-based activities and assignments, including a custom-made, interactive market simulation tool. To bridge the gap between market-driven design and engineering education research, this paper explores how students think about and internally organize design concepts before and after learning and practicing market-driven design approaches and tools in the context of an engineering design course. The central research question is: In what ways do student conceptions of product design change after introducing a market-driven design curriculum? In line with the constructivism framework of learning, it is expected that student conceptions of design should evolve to include more market considerations as they learn about and apply market-driven design concepts and techniques to their term projects. Four different types of data instruments are included in the analysis: Concept maps generated by the students before and after the course, open-ended written reflection assignments at various points in the semester, surveys administered after learning the market simulation tool and at the end of the course, and final project reports in which student teams listed their top 3-5 lessons learned in the course. Using the changes between the pre- and post-course concept maps as the primary metric to represent evolving design conceptions, data from the reflections, surveys, and reports are evaluated to assess their influence on such learning. Because market-driven design is a multi-faceted topic, a market-driven design is hierarchically decomposed into specific sub-topics for these evaluations. These include profitability (which itself encompasses pricing and costs), modeling and simulation, and market research (which encompasses consumers and competition). For each topic, correlation analyses are performed and regression models are fit to assess the significance of different factors on learning. The findings provide evidence regarding the effectiveness of the course’s market-driven design curriculum and activities on influencing student conceptions of design. 
    more » « less
  3. Generally, the focus of undergraduate engineering programs is on the development of technical skills and how they can be applied to design and problem solving. However, research has shown that there is also a need to expose students to business and society factors that influence design in context. This technical bias is reinforced by the available tools for use in engineering education, which are highly focused on ensuring technical feasibility, and a corresponding lack of tools for engineers to explore other design needs. One important contextual area is market systems, where design decisions are made while considering factors such as consumer choice, competitor behavior, and pricing. This study examines student learning throughout a third-year design course that emphasizes market-driven design through project-based activities and assignments, including a custom-made, interactive market simulation tool. To bridge the gap between market-driven design and engineering education research, this paper explores how students think about and internally organize design concepts before and after learning and practicing market-driven design approaches and tools in the context of an engineering design course. The central research question is: In what ways do student conceptions of product design change after introducing a market-driven design curriculum? In line with the constructivism framework of learning, it is expected that student conceptions of design should evolve to include more market considerations as they learn about and apply market-driven design concepts and techniques to their term projects. Four different types of data instruments are included in the analysis: Concept maps generated by the students before and after the course, open-ended written reflection assignments at various points in the semester, surveys administered after learning the market simulation tool and at the end of the course, and final project reports in which student teams listed their top 3-5 lessons learned in the course. Using the changes between the pre- and post-course concept maps as the primary metric to represent evolving design conceptions, data from the reflections, surveys, and reports are evaluated to assess their influence on such learning. Because market-driven design is a multi-faceted topic, a market-driven design is hierarchically decomposed into specific sub-topics for these evaluations. These include profitability (which itself encompasses pricing and costs), modeling and simulation, and market research (which encompasses consumers and competition). For each topic, correlation analyses are performed and regression models are fit to assess the significance of different factors on learning. The findings provide evidence regarding the effectiveness of the course’s market-driven design curriculum and activities on influencing student conceptions of design. 
    more » « less
  4. Participating in a research experience for undergraduates (REU) site provides opportunities for students to develop their research and technical skills, network with other REU students/professors, raise their awareness of graduate studies, and understand the social context of research. In support of this mission, our REU site at the University of Alabama is exploring research at the intersection of engineering and communicative disorders. Beyond research training though, an REU site provides the opportunity for professional development, social activities, and cultural activities to enrich the student experience. These are important features of an REU, which typically range from 9-10 weeks. Students that participate in summer REUs are recruited from around the country and are brought together at a central research site. Each student brings with them their unique perspectives and lived experiences. To form a cohesive cohort from the individual students, it is important to facilitate shared experiences early in their 9-10 week REU. Supporting the development of a student community through shared experiences has a significant impact on student perspectives of the program. Shared experiences also provide the opportunity to increase the students’ understanding of the new city/state/region that is the setting for the REU. The 2019 iteration of our REU Site, which has a theme of developing technology to support clinical practice in the field of communicative sciences and disorders, aimed to increase the level of social and cultural activities of the cohort in comparison to previous REU sites on campus. This was achieved with multiple professional development, cultural, and social activities. For professional development, students participated in a Practicing Inclusive Engagement workshop to build skills for intercultural engagement that in turn foster a more inclusive REU cohort. Students participated in this workshop within the first three days of arriving on campus. This workshop focused on identity, inclusive language, and creative ways to invite and engage in diverse perspectives. For cultural activities, full-day field trips were taken to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL and The Legacy Museum / The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL. These trips engaged students in very different aspects of Alabama's history. One showcasing achievements of the U.S. space and rocket program and the other investigating the racial injustice in American history and its legacy. While many of the students were familiar with these histories, the museums and their compelling visuals and data-rich exhibits provided a far deeper insight into these topics and facilitated further conversation between the REU cohort. The REU cohort spent much of their summer learning with and from graduate students enrolled in the masters of speech-language pathology (SLP) program at the University of Alabama. At the end of the summer experience, a BBQ event was facilitated (food, yard games) to spur on friendly competition between REU and SLP students. This provided both groups an informal opportunity to debrief about the summer experiences. In this work an overview of the REU site will be provided with a focus on the logistical elements to pilot the social, cultural and professional development efforts, a summary of the student feedback from the written reflections and focus groups, experiences of the program coordinators, and future plans to refine and improve these elements will be presented. 
    more » « less
  5. Engineering education is increasingly looking to the liberal arts to broaden and diversify preparation of students for professional careers. The present study involves an elective graduate environmental engineering course that incorporated the arts and humanities. The goal of the course was to develop engineers and technical professionals who would become both more appreciative of and better equipped to address technical, ethical, social, and cultural challenges in engineering through the development of critical and reflective thinking skills and reflective practice in their professional work. A reflective writing assignment was submitted by students following each of fourteen course topics in response to the following question: Reflect on how you might want to apply what you learned to your development as a professional and/or to your daily life. Student responses were classified by human coders using qualitative text analytic methods and their classifications were attempted to be learned by a simple machine classifier. The goal of this analysis was to identify and quantify students’ reflections on prospective behaviors that emerged through participation in the course. The analysis indicated that the primary focus of students’ responses was self-improvement, with additional themes involving reflection, teamwork, and improving the world. The results provide a glimpse into how broadening and diversifying the curriculum might shape students’ thinking in directions that are more considerate of their contributions to their profession and society. In the discussion, we consider the findings from the human and machine assessments and suggest how incorporating AI machine methods into engineering provides new possibilities for engineering pedagogy. 
    more » « less