How we tell our engineering stories

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Proceedings of AAEE, 2018,
Issue Date:
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CONTEXT Engineering involves professionals and clients from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds and experiences. Professional engineering educators aim to make teaching materials engaging to help students make sense of knowledge from academic research, general theory and their own practice. Some of these aspects are hard to convey especially those from areas currently outside student experiences, including making decision in problem solving, and working in cross-cultural contexts. We use narratives to introduce students to new and challenging concepts, and in this paper discuss how and why such strategies engage students regardless of whether they have prior experience or knowledge. We demonstrate how we do so through an exploration of two frameworks: the Cynefin domains of knowledge; and teaching cross-cultural contexts through Indigenous storytelling. Narrative is already a key knowledge sharing strategy for Aboriginal people (Kennedy, 2016), and narratives enable explicit linking of theory and practice in practical and memorable ways while also making learning enjoyable. PURPOSE The narrative process extends conventional teaching methods and is well suited to the metacognitive domain. We illustrate how its use assists students to make sense of knowledge they are encountering and to acquire learning in an in-depth and personal manner, and how to structure such presentations. APPROACH The paper uses a recursive process employing a narrative form to explain how this teaching process works for improving student understanding of knowledge and knowledge management. Green and Brook (2000) introduced the theory of "transportation into a narrative world" based on immersion into a story as a mechanism of narrative influence. Green & Donahue (2011) then reported on the power of such narrative to change beliefs, including the effects of fictional or false stories on real-world attitudes. We apply their work in the Cynefin domains and show how different problem-solving processes may be enacted in each domain of knowledge. We then use Indigenous community story telling modes to illustrate how narratives can be developed to integrate theory with practical understanding in these narratives. RESULTS Experiencing such narratives provides accessible understanding of engineering theory and demonstrates how use of relevant narratives exemplifies both educational and engineering theory. The stories provide examples of the ability of narrative to explain and engage with students in complex learning domains. These narratives have been used in UTS Engineering in tacit knowledge sharing in class for over a year now and the method is receiving increasing support from staff and students. CONCLUSIONS An interactive method of teaching narrative engages students’ in creating visual imagery of components of a scenario. Using different voices, when creating the narrative, allows a variety of perspectives, and interactively engaging the student voice in class provides nuances suitable to students’ present perspectives and hence more likely to extend their awareness. The Indigenous narrative techniques were designed for such learning and the Cynefin model is a useful tool to distinguish stories into different domains of knowledge to provide a coherent learning example.
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