Publication Details

Goldfinch, T. Lachlan. (2013). Embracing complexity in engineering education: A way forward for developing intercultural competency. ASEE International Forum (pp. 1-8). United States: American Society for Engineering Education.


towards engineering education that prepares graduates to work effectively across foreign cultures and customs1-3. The author argues that while this outward focus is important and necessary, there is also a need to focus on preparing graduates for cultural issues that will arise much closer to home. Identifying, and working with subtle cultural differences that can occur in workplaces, organizations and the community, where the population may initially appear monocultural, presents unique challenges. The way in which one assumes cultural uniformity in a given situation can contribute to the oversimplification of a problem, and subsequently the pursuit of ineffective solutions. In a recent project, the author and colleagues sought to develop educational modules that introduced students, and staff, to strategies for identifying complexities arising from these subtle cultural contrasts and conflicts. In the process, a model for knowledge management by Kurtz and Snowden4 has been identified that neatly frames the way we approach learning and decision making in engineering education and practice. The framework distinguishes the ways in which one perceives a problem in terms of its complexity and the strategies employed to solve it. This paper describes the applications of this framework to engineering education that focuses on developing students' intercultural competency. The way this framework has been used to design learning activities as well as its usefulness for staff training and development are outlined. The author proposes potential applications of this framework to other areas of engineering curricula as a way to embrace complexity in learning and teaching and avoid oversimplifying complicated problems.