Shifting the focus. Incorporating knowledge about Aboriginal engineering into main stream content



Publication Details

Leigh, E., Goldfinch, T., Dawes, L., Prpic, K., McCarthy, T. & Kennedy, J. (2015). Shifting the focus. Incorporating knowledge about Aboriginal engineering into main stream content. 26th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education - AAEE2015 (pp. 641-650). Geelong, VIC: School of Engineering, Deakin University.


Structured Abstract BACKGROUND OR CONTEXT The concept of 'Aboriginal engineering' has had little exposure in conventional engineering education programs, despite more than 40,000 years of active human engagement with the diverse Australian environment. The work reported in this paper began with the premise that Indigenous Student Support Through Indigenous Perspectives Embedded in Engineering Curricula (Goldfinch, et al 2013) would provide a clear and replicable means of encouraging Aboriginal teenagers to consider a career in engineering. Although that remains a key outcome of this OLT project, the direction taken by the research had led to additional insights and perspectives that have wide implications for engineering education more generally. There has only been passing reference to the achievements of Aboriginal engineering in current texts, and the very absence of such references was a prompt to explore further as our work developed. PURPOSE OR GOAL Project goals focused on curriculum-based change, including development of a model for inclusive teaching spaces, and study units employing key features of the model. As work progressed we found we needed to understand more about the principles and practices informing the development of pre-contact Aboriginal engineering strategies for sustaining life and society within the landscape of this often harsh continent. We also found ourselves being asked 'what engineering did Aboriginal cultures have?' Finding that there are no easy-toaccess answers, we began researching the question, while continuing to engage with specific curriculum trials. APPROACH Stakeholders in the project had been identified as engineering educators, potential Aboriginal students and Aboriginal communities local to Universities involved in the project. We realised, early on, that at least one more group was involved - all the non-Aboriginal students in engineering classes. This realisation, coupled with recognition of the need to understand Aboriginal engineering as a set of viable, long term practices, altered the focus of our efforts. Rather than focusing primarily on finding ways to attract Aboriginal engineering students, the shift has been towards evolving ways of including knowledge about Aboriginal practices and principles in relevant engineering content. DISCUSSION This paper introduces the model resulting from the work of this project, explores its potential influence on engineering curriculum development and reports on implementation strategies. The model is a static representation of a dynamic and cyclic approach to engaging with Aboriginal engineering through contact with local communities in regard to building knowledge about the social beliefs underlying Aboriginal engineering principles and practices. Ways to engage engineering educators, students and the wider community are evolving through the continuing work of the project team and will be reported in more detail in the paper. RECOMMENDATIONS/IMPLICATIONS/CONCLUSION While engineering may be considered by some to be agnostic in regard to culture and social issues, the work of this project is drawing attention to the importance of including such issues into curriculum materials at a number of levels of complexity. The paper will introduce and explore the central concepts of the research completed to date, as well as suggesting ways in which engineering educators can extend their knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal engineering principles in the context of their own specialisations

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