colorful venn diagram

Figure 1. Activity Systems in CBEE. Multiple interacting components.

While CBEE has implemented innovative curriculum and has a rich and varied array of co-curricular activities, the professional development of engineers operates within the larger culture of engineering as practiced in industry. This culture has come under fire for privileging a dominant group: white, male, and middle- to upper-class persons who have been successful in upper-level math and science courses in high school. Activity theories1-3 provide both an explanation for the ongoing existence of the norms and practices within the unit and a framework for inducing change. These theories "situate" individual learning and activity in the social contexts in which they occur. Indeed, Jorhi, Olds, and O’Conner4 argue that a situative approach in needed to address the complex professional development of engineers. By taking a situative approach, we consider activity systems as continually co-constructed through practice, and the parts played in maintaining the systems (and resisting change) by different groups of people, structures, rules, and behaviors becomes clearer. This leads directly to a change strategy. The time, opportunity, and incentives for restructuring are addressed as part of a system of values that motivates change in practices (or not).

Figure 1 shows a representation of the CBEE community in terms of multiple constituent components (e.g., people, artifacts, resources). We propose that if our revolution will affect lasting change, we must simultaneously re-situate and re-negotiate these multiple components. The major project activities address course design, pedagogies, faculty (and GTA) culture, and undergraduate student culture. As illustrated in Figure 1, each component interacts with the others in the activity systems in CBEE.

  1. Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133-156.
  2. Greeno, J. G. (2006). Learning in Activity. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of: The learning sciences. (pp. 79-96). New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Holland, D., Lachicotte, W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. Johri, A., Olds, B. M. & O’Conner, K., (2014) Situative frameworks for engineering learning research. in Johri, A., & Olds, B. M. (Eds.). Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research. Cambridge University Press. p. 47-66.