A NON-TRADITIONAL TEACHING PROJECT IN THE UNAM ENGINEERING FACULTY
Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas/Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (MEXICO)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2012 Proceedings
Publication year: 2012
Conference name: 6th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 5-7 March, 2012
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:I present results of an extended study covering a period of twelve years teaching an innovative undergraduate course on Philosophy of Science and Technology to engineering students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. I followed a non-traditional approach as follows.
• The history and philosophy of science and technology is presented as a single evolutionary process starting in the Paleolithic and flowing into modern Mexico—the students’ country. This strategy motivates the students by relating emotionally to scientific and technological achievements. Engineering education is often deficient in training the social abilities of the student such as teamwork and oral/written presentation of ideas.
• The students are encouraged to participate actively in the learning process. This is a novelty for most of the participants. On the first meeting of the course the students are informed that grading would be based on degree of participation.
• The course draws a large crowd of students, both registered and auditing the course. Success means the professor can afford to be picky. Example: students are told that latecomers will not be admitted and this rule is gently but firmly enforced, so that the course develops a perfect attendance record.
• Students are encouraged to write short term papers on subjects that have aroused their curiosity. Most papers are based on searches in the web. Group discussions are based on them and so is grading.
The self-evaluation by participants is highly significant: for the past decade this course has consistently earned the top rating among engineering students. Students volunteer to help me teach the course and assist me with the projector. Some audit the course repeatedly. Students are grateful for the learning experience and express themselves spontaneously on the evaluation form.
One major result of this experiment in non-traditional teaching is that undergraduates are starved for personal contacts and individual learning experiences. Apparently they had never been told that there is an outside world beyond engineering. They have not met their classmates and the faculty tends to be remote and bureaucratic. Many students had never heard of Egypt or pre-Hispanic America—ancient cultures that developed important scientific and technological contributions.
The conclusions of this research are as follows.
(1) Engineering students miss the linkage between the coursework—which is strong on mathematics and technological developments—and society. This observation has been made in many countries but few successful alternative strategies have been reported.
(2) The difficulty experienced by students in moving between mathematical models and the “real” world appears to be caused by a virtual absence of training in social skills. Many undergraduates belong to underprivileged social strata and their cultural life is deprived. Engineering studies are demanding and most students lack leisure time and cannot afford to participate in sports or cultural activities offered by the university.
(3) Strong positive feedback is experienced when engineering students are offered an intellectual diet based on an integrative or evolutionary viewpoint of science and technology as the key of social dynamics.