Shared values: diverse perspectives - engaging engineering educators in integrating Indigenous engineering knowledge into current curricula
BACKGROUND Engineering is a problem-based practically oriented discipline, whose practitioners aim to find effective solutions to engineering challenges, technically and economically. Engineering educators operate within a mandate to ensure that graduate engineers understand the practicalities and realities of good engineering practice. While this is a vital goal for the discipline, emerging influences are challenging the focus on 'hard practicalities' and requiring recognition of the cultural and social aspects of engineering. Expecting graduate engineers to possess communication skills essential for negotiating satisfactory outcomes in context of complex social beliefs about the impact of their work can be an unsettling and challenging prospect for engineering educators. This project identifies and addresses Indigenous engineering practices and principles, and their relevance to future engineering practices.
PURPOSE This Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) project proposes that what is known/discoverable about indigenous engineering knowledge and practices must be integrated into engineering curricula. This an important aspect of ensuring that engineering as a profession responds competently to increasing demands for socially and environmentally responsible activity across all aspects of engineering activity.
DESIGN/METHOD The project addresses i) means for appropriate inclusion of Indigenous students into usual teaching activities ii) assuring engineering educators have access to knowledge of Indigenous practices and skills relevant to particular engineering courses and topics iii) means for preparing all students to negotiate their way through issues of indigenous relationships with the land where engineering projects are planned. The project is undertaking wide-ranging research to collate knowledge about indigenous engineering principles and practices and develop relevant resource materials.
RESULTS It is common to hear that such social issues as 'Indigenous concerns' are only of concern to environmental engineers. We challenge that perspective, and make the case that Indigenous knowledge is an important issue for all engineering educators in relation to effective integration of indigenous students and preparation of all engineering graduates to engage with indigenous communities. At the time of first contact, a rich and varied, technically literate, Indigenous social framework possessed knowledge of the environment that is not yet fully acknowledged in Australian society. A core outcome of the work will be development of resources relating to Indigenous engineering practices for inclusion in engineering core curricula.
CONCLUSIONS A large body of technical knowledge was needed to survive and sustain human society in the complex environment that was Australia before 1788. This project is developing resource materials, and supporting documentation, about that knowledge to enable engineering educators to more easily integrate it into current curricula. The project also aims to demonstrate the importance for graduating engineers to appreciate the existence of diverse perspectives on engineering tasks and learn how to value - and employ - multiple paths to possible solutions.