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Chapter 3: Enculturation into Engineerin... > LEARNING ENGINEERING IN HIGHER EDUCA... - Pg. 24

Enculturation into Engineering Professional Practice: are normal language in a mechanical engineering laboratory, whereas acronyms like ATP and ADP may be common in a biochemical engineering laboratory. A further aspect of sociocultural learn- ing theories is the concept of distributed cognition (Perkins, 1997) where knowledge is seen as not resident solely in an individual lecturer or tutor or practicing engineer, but distributed across the work environment or community. For example, the professional engineers in a civil engineering consultancy company might hold knowledge about how to conduct research about the best materials to use in road construction, but technicians hold knowledge of specific equipment operation and maintenance. These ideas point to possible features of learning engineering in higher education that allow a science student to develop an identity, and become enculturated within a engineering community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991). advancement of knowledge. This, Coll argues, provides enormous dilemma for higher education educators. Which of the myriad of topics avail- able should a teacher actually teach? (Buntting et al., 2006). As noted above, socioculturalists would argue that this content is specific to the higher education institution that delivers it. Thus Eames and Bell (2005) and Coll and Eames (2007), argue that what university lecturers consider to be the appropriate content for, say materials and process engineering, is socially-determined, by and within, that com- munity (see Coll & Treagust, 2001, 2002, 2003 and Taber & Coll 2003 for a similar argument in the sciences). Work Integrated Learning Programs in Engineering and Science The purpose of undergraduate teaching tradition- ally was to produce the engineers, scientists and technicians of the future (Fensham, 1980). In the 1970s relatively few citizens went on to university study, and fewer still did engineering or science. It seems the main purpose of studying undergraduate engineering and science was to go on into a science, or subject-related, career (Buntting et al., 2007). However, there has been much criticism about the competency held by new graduates (see Burchell, Hodges, & Rainsbury, 2001; Coll & Zegwaard, 2006), and there is debate about how well prepared new graduates are for work in engineering and the sciences (Laslett & Zegwaard, 2004; Todd & Siddons, 2004). In recent times there has been con- siderable growth in programs that seek to enhance graduate competency, and in particular in skill acquisition (Sovilla & Varty, 2004). Perhaps the most obvious example is work-integrated leaning (usually referred to by the acronym WIL and also known by the term `cooperative education'). 2 WIL consists of programs that involve students doing a `normal' academic program of study, but which incorporates pre-determined periods of authentic work experience (Coll & Eames, 2004; Eames & LEARNING ENGINEERING IN HIGHER EDUCATION A Focus on Content If we are to better understand how an engineer learns communication and other skills during training, we first need to consider what happens in the higher education learning communities that provide such training. This topic formed the basis of a special issue of the journal Research in Sci- ence & Technological Education, which reported a national, cross-institutional, study of science and engineering learning communities (see Coll & Eames, 2008). It seems that the learning that goes on in many higher education institutions is dominated by heavy focus on content (see, Fensham, 2004 and references therein). This is perhaps not surprising given the sheer volume of content, available to, and wanted to be taught, at the higher education level. Coll (2008) reports a virtual `explosion' of content as engineering and the sciences progress in an almost relentless 24