The Missing Basics & Other Philosophical Reflections for the Transformation of Engineering Education

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David E. Goldberg
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The paper starts by reflecting on what senior engineering students don't know how to do when they confront a real-world project in an industrially sponsored senior design project. Seven, largely qualitatively, skills are found to be lacking: questioning, labeling, qualitatively modeling, decomposing, measuring, ideating, and communicating. These skills, some of the most important critical and creative thinking skills in the arsenal of modern civilization, are termed "the missing basics" and contrasted with what engineering faculty usually call "the basics." The paper critically examines the term "the basics" and other terms that are conceptual hurdles to fundamental reassessment of engineering education at this time. The paper concludes that the engineering academy is stuck in a Kuhnian paradigm born in the cold war, that the reflexive belief in the superiority of math, science, and engineering science to the exclusion of other topics is not itself scientific, and that the use of tired code words is not an argument or a rational defense of a paradigm that may have outlived its usefulness. The paper concludes by highlighting the role philosophy can play in clearing away the conceptual confusion, thereby permitting a more reasoned conversation on the needs of engineering education in our times.

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