AP3: Human Factors Engineering in Higher Education

Learning to practice heterogeneous evidence

Prof. Dr. Sabine Maasen (Sociology of Science, University of Hamburg): Project Manager
Anton Schröpfer  (Sociology of Science, Munich Center for Technology in Society, TUM): Research Associate

The newly added subproject deals with the transformation of academic engineering education towards the goal of a “human-centered engineering”, expected to initiate a paradigm shift. The expertise of future engineers should no longer be limited to solving technical functional relationships. Rather, engineers should be able to classify, process and shape technology as part of complex social problems such as urban planning, food security or health. In addition to the technical functioning, the social robustness of technology becomes a central criterion of evidence: Social aspects (e.g. ecological risks, values or market dynamics) must also be taken into account. Such so-called ‘Grand Challenges’ destabilize merely technical functionality-oriented engineering knowledge and the evidence thus produced. In response, integrating humanistic and social scientific knowledge and their evidences into the epistemic core of engineering promises restabilization: Engineering constructions should emerge out of heterogeneous evidences to function as sociotechnical problem-solving solution.

Learning how to practice heterogeneous knowledge is the pivotal question of our subproject: Therefore, we focus on higher engineering education. Although social and humanistic references in engineering education have a long tradition (as an educational program, as politically motivated criticism), it is only since the mid-1990s that scientific and evidence-based knowledge of the humanities and social sciences about ‘society’ is integrated into academic education of engineers: it is about composing sociotechnical cultures of evidence. We consider tertiary education as an exemplary field in which the practices and debates of the de- and restabilization of evidence in the field of engineering can be observed. In order to gain knowledge about types and means of integrating sociotechnical evidences in tertiary education, we work with a method mix of document analyses, qualitative interviews and participant observation. This includes research on the macro level of political programs, the meso level of different technical universities and the micro level of local study programs. We expect the destabilization of engineering evidence to give rise to tendencies of both, persistence and restabilization. Concerning to the production of integrative sociotechnical cultures of evidence, our aim is to develop a typology of implementation practices – ranging from additive to integrative as well as from competence-oriented to research-based. On a theoretical level, this creates impulses for empirically grounded reflection on integrative cultures  of evidence. On a practical level, this can serve as an information base for reform processes in engineering education.