A sociological analysis of engineering education

Moffat, K. (2017) A sociological analysis of engineering education. In: New approaches to Engineering Higher Education, 2017-05-22 - 2017-05-22, The IET, 2 Savoy Place.

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Autoethnography is a social science method that could be described as a combination of ethnography and autobiography, telling stories that connect the personal to the cultural. My personal story is that of a teenager without the prerequisite 'maths and science' profile required for an engineering degree, who left school with no plans for a career in engineering. However, a later series of events led me to into an engineering career through the 'back door', and an engineering degree as a mature student. As someone who worked in industry first and did the degree later, I found that the very quantitative, objective and theoretical world of engineering education, didn’t seem to fit with the qualitative, subjective and applied reality. These were some of the reflections captured in my autoethnography, and exploring engineering education, through the lens of educational sociology, has led me to question the contrast between the skills required for engineering practice, and the skills required to complete an engineering degree. In order to explore why this situation exists I concluded my project with a Bourdieusian sociological analysis, conceptualising engineering academia and practice as Bourdieusian fields, and exploring the habitus, or world view of the members of those fields, and how this informs engineering education. In this paper I will briefly introduce the relevant social science terminology and literature, before using this framework to describe how these concepts may inform the way that the engineering curriculum is conceived. I argue that we need to look to the past, the present, and the future, and reconsider what we think engineering is, in order to design a curriculum that will meet the future needs of industry.