Contextualize, critique, repair

A goal of Inclusive Engineering Design (ENGR 053) is to intentionally engage in critical analysis of technology and its production directly alongside developing technologies and imagining shared futures (“half seminar, half design studio”). While there has been an increase in courses specifically aimed at technologists who want to engage with critiques of technology and related disciplines, these courses are mostly offered outside of formal design environments. I think it’s important to put these two together, because it is exactly their separation that contributes to pervasive views of technology as neutral, and history and critique as being outside the scope of engineering design. The de-politicization of engineering education was an intentional construction to situate any critical study as “over there” rather than “right here.”

Re-orienting engineering education toward engaging critically with what we build necessitates true integration of that critique into design workflows (“contextualize, critique, rebuild”*). We must learn from the past, engage meaningfully with its limitations, and work together to rebuild.

*Phrasing inspired by this post

It’s happening!

Two years may have gone by since I last posted on this blog, but lots of progress has happened in the meantime. First, the exciting news: Inclusive Engineering Design is officially a course at Swarthmore and will be offered this Fall (ENGR 053)! I’m looking forward to working with a great group of students, even if we will have to work remotely. Here’s the official course description:

Technology created by humans reflects our biases and priorities. Engineering a better world requires an interrogation of how we design. This course will combine critical works in technology studies with hands-on, student directed design projects. The course will be divided into three modules that will investigate the relationship between design and bodies, identities, and society. Readings will draw from fields such as disability studies and science and technology studies. Students will apply design methods such as universal design, human centered design, and critical design. This course is open to both Engineering students and non-majors with some previous design experience, such as Computer Science or Art majors.

Prerequisite: Any course involving design of physical objects or software, for example: ENGR 015ENGR 006CPSC 071ARTT 050THEA 004ATHEA 004BTHEA 004C, or permission of the instructor.

Swarthmore Engineering Course Catalog

I’ve spent and will continue to spend a lot of time thinking about how to run the course, but I have been fortunate enough to have a few opportunities to hone my thinking. I presented “Inclusive Design Quizzo” (trivia for those non-Philadelphians) in two events, one at Swarthmore as part of the Aydelotte Foundation’s Second Tuesday Lunch Series, and another at Olin College after I gave a guest lecture in a class there (thanks to Emily Tow for the invite!). Slides below:

I also piloted the course with two Swarthmore students this past spring (syllabus and readings here). I got a lot of helpful feedback from them, so things will definitely change, but it was a helpful start. More soon as I get ready to launch the course!