International conference on engineering education hosted by Virginia Tech

August 23, 2006

Blacksburg, Va. -- Reform in engineering education has become an object of intense interest and desire in countries throughout the world. Academics from 12 nations will be discussing what is at stake September 9-12 at the Skelton Conference Center and Inn at Virginia Tech. This three-day workshop, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation for $28,000, has been organized by Gary Downey, a professor of science and technology in society in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech with assistance from Sharon Ruff, Ph.D. candidate in Science and Technology Studies, as Graduate Student Organizer.

International co-organizers include Chyuan-Yuan Wu of National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, and Maria Paula Diogo, New University of Lisbon, Portugal. Joseph Pitt, chair of the Department of Philosophy at Virginia Tech, and Hayden Griffin, chair of the Department of Engineering Education, are co-PIs on the NSF grant.

The three-day workshop employs a unique format of focused discussion around 29 previously drafted papers. More than 54 scholars are visiting with representation from Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, India, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Taiwan, and the United States.

This first workshop of the International Network for Engineering Studies (INES) brings together researchers on the history, social and cultural studies, and philosophy of engineering education.

"By placing questions in wider historical and cultural contexts," said Downey, "we will explore how the social, political, and epistemological issues involved in locating engineers have varied across space and time." The researchers will examine key struggles in different countries and explore the implications of outcomes in engineering education for emerging national identities as well as transnational projects ranging from industrial capitalism to globalization. They will also discuss what counts as engineering and who counts as engineers, including disproportionate demographic distributions by race and sex.

The format consists of an Opening Speed Plenary, eight Collective Editing sessions for all papers by groups of ten reviewers, and three Plenary Discussions. a Closing Speed Plenary and Final Articulation. The purpose of this format is to maximize the learning of participants, value of contributions to submitted manuscripts, and level of intellectual engagement among participants.

The Opening Speed Plenary is designed to solve one of the most common problems at three-day Workshops and conferences--getting participants interacting directly with the people with whom they have the most to exchange. In this system, each attendee is responsible for delivering a plenary address, albeit for two minutes only. Video clips of these presentations will be posted at the INES website, hosted in Taiwan (

The main structure of the workshop consists of the Collective Editing discussion sessions. The effect of this system on participants can be dramatic. It can transform the typical point-counterpoint of a question-and-answer session into a process of collective editing and authorship. Since authors cannot speak, others must speak on their behalf and participants find they have little incentive to attack someone who cannot respond. Instead, workshop participants progressively take on the responsibilities of authorship, both articulating strengths and offering editing advice, and the whole event is transformed into a discussion to make the manuscripts more effective. In effect, each paper belongs to all.
In addition to NSF, local sponsors for the workshop include the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Department of Science and Technology in Society, College of Engineering, Department of Engineering Education, and the Office of the Vice President for Research at Virginia Tech.

Plans for dissemination include a coordinated set of publications in four journals, web-based video/audio streaming and transcripts to inform scholars not able to participate, and an edited book collection.

Downey, an affiliated member of the Department of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, received two bachelor's degrees from Lehigh University, and a master's and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. In June, Downey delivered a Distinguished Lecture at the American Society for Engineering Education on the topic "Are Globalization, Diversity, and Leadership Variations of the Same Problem?" In July, he gave invited presentations at the Engineering Education Leadership Institute for engineering deans, organized by the National Academy of Engineering, and at a workshop on undergraduate engineering education held at the University of Notre Dame. This fall he is speaking at a Sigma Xi national workshop and a meeting of directors of Engineering Research Centers sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

The International Network for Engineering Studies was established in August 2004 in Paris, and currently has more than 2500 members.

For more information, visit the workshop web site at

Virginia Tech

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