Starting point: constructs of culture and curriculum (with Tess Edmonds)

November 12, 2018 – 1:05 am

Once upon a time, Tess and I were going to do a systematic literature review on how the notions of “culture” and “curriculum” have been used in engineering education literature. In other words, how do we conceptualize (and then use) these two ideas in engineering education, and how are they related (in the various ways they’re used)?

Then… life happened. While it’s still an analysis I want to do, it’s… not at the top of either of our lists right now, for Many Good Reasons. But it does seem worth thinking and noodling around the categories we were using as a starting place, based on an incredibly nonsystematic literature review. Tess and I had been thinking and reading and writing about culture and curriculum in engineering education for a while, and wanted to get more… structure, more solidity, into our thinking.

Anyway. NOTES! So I can finally reclaim my whiteboard.

Constructs of culture:

  1. Global/national/ethnic (ex: Brazilian culture, Texas culture, Asian culture)
  2. Disciplinary (engineering culture, business culture, physics culture)
  3. Institutional (MIT culture, UIUC culture, Olin culture)
  4. Curricular (the culture fostered within or by a particular curriculum, though our notion of this is fuzzy and was one of the things we were kinda hoping would clear up via the systematic lit review)
  5. Individual (“which cultures do you identify with / to which cultures do you belong” — more a shift in focus than a category type. The cultures identified-with/belonged-to could be any of the above options, but the unit of analysis is an individual person who may belong to one or more cultures, rather than a culture that relates to one or more peoples.)
  6. None Of The Above (ostensibly, more categories would emerge from this catch-all bucket as they came along.)

Constructs of curriculum in relation to culture:

  1. Culture Consists Of The Things We Should Teach Students (including notions of assessment and success that focus on “And How Well Are We Doing So?” — likely highly implicit, ex: “It is important to learn calculus!” is a cultural notion within many engineering education college curricula.)
  2. Curriculum as situated with/in and/or influenced by culture (ex: drones are hot right now, so we’re starting a new degree program focused on them)
  3. Curriculum as an influencer of culture (ex: we’re training our students in design because we want them to go out and bring that way of thinking into the world)
  4. The curriculum can/should change culture, and we can deliberately design it to be so (note how this bleeds into #2 and #3; again, this is something we hope will be clarified as we analyze)
  5. Curricular culture impacts individuals within it (in both positive/negative/other ways – this one is likely to be tied to diversity/inclusion work)
  6. How does (or does?) curriculum have, or relate to, culture? Or vice versa? (Basically, works that seek to understand/define/articulate their usage of this construct, rather than simply taking it for granted.)
  7. Unspecified (the opposite of #6).
  8. Curriculum should “inoculate students against” [ostensibly harmful aspects of] culture (a sort of “world-proof-the-baby” approach). For instance, if a school thinks the dominant engineering culture is far too theoretical, they might design their curriculum to train students to go more quickly towards fabrication and testing than the norm. Or you might see phrasing like “out there, the world is ___, but we are going to be ___” — such as “out there, the world is sexist… but we are going to work towards gender equity in our field.” (Again, this kind of blurs into #3, but there the goal is to change the culture; here it is to defend against an unchangeable culture — but again, actual analysis needed to see how this would play out.)
  9. None Of The Above

Yeah, these groupings and categories (especially the “curriculum in relation to culture”) are a big pile of fuzz right now. But this is how thinking starts.

Raw thoughts, maybe papers someday, who knows? I do better when I think out loud, in searchable public. Testing that hypothesis.

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