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General Card #1448
CONNECTIONS: What do we mean?
Updated: 3/12/2024 12:10 PM by Doug Melton
Reviewed: 10/14/2022 2:55 PM by Michael Johnson
What if every engineering graduate understood the CONNECTIONS to their work? Engineering is seldom within a vacuum; context matters.
What if every engineering graduate understood the CONNECTIONS to their work? Engineering is seldom within a vacuum; context matters. In other words, engineering solutions are only successful and sustainable when they meet economic, political, cultural, legal, technical requirements — they live and die within complex contexts and systems. If your graduates' instincts are to habitually assess an engineering solution's CONNECTIONS, the likelihood of success increases. Indeed, that's the aspirational goal of partner institutions in KEEN.

This card is about understanding CONNECTIONS in depth and within an entrepreneurial mindset. The KEEN Framework provides a starting point for two student outcomes related to connections. Students should:

  1. Integrate information from many sources to gain insight.

  2. Assess and manage risk.

Turning the CONNECTIONS outcomes into questions is also helpful. Students achieving these outcomes will ask:

    • "How do my experiences, my knowledge, and new bits of information relate?"

    • "What else might be relevant, especially within the larger landscape and longer timeline?"

    • "What are all the implications and consequences of my work?"

Because the term "connections" has such broad meaning, this list is not intended to provide a complete description of connections. Rather, within KEEN, the following form a "starter set" for connections-related outcomes.

To reach these outcomes, design exercises so that students:
    • Mentally integrate technical topics, relating one to another,
    • Contextualize technical solutions, esp. in non-technical domains,
    • Create diagrams that illustrate relationships among a group of items or concepts,
    • Investigate the intersection of seemingly disparate ideas,
    • Use current affairs in discussions of technical solutions,
    • Think about the potential unintended consequences of their work,
    • Plan for decisions associated with increasing scale or production,
    • Evaluate the unanticipated impact due to reuse of designs,
    • Habitually assess “What if?” with regard to connections to key people, organizations,
         political environments, regulations, competitors, processes, and design changes.

If habitually making connections is going to become part of a mindset, part of a disposition, then the goal of educational interventions is to create mental habits, akin to mental muscle-memory, that has an inclination to investigate and draw connections.

To dive deeper into connections and associated research literature, first consider relevant variants of the term as it relates to mindset. Here's a sampling:

Integrative Learning
Integrative learning is often described as making connections across curricula. Sometimes the integrative concept is linked to project-based learning, problem based learning, and is undoubtedly related to entrepreneurially minded learning because the pedagogy relies upon finding opportunities and assessing potential impact, a necessarily interdisciplinary endeavor. Assessment tools like those from the Rubric AAC&U on Integrative Learning are valuable for designing and assessing educational interventions.

Within the KEEN Framework, CONNECTIONS is related to an ability to assess risk. This takes on particular meaning when solutions are seen within the context of a system. An entrepreneurially minded individual will assess risks associated with a technological solution, risks within a business model, risks that are associated with the human element. Integrative learning connects different disciplines.

The Greater Context
Engineering activities that affect lives are always done within some context, whether they impact a large sector of society or a small market. Whether considering the broad context of societal needs, as in UNESCO's Engineering Report, or using a tool like the Business Model Canvas to situate a specific value proposition, engineering educators are developing mental habits for "heads-up" engineering. In a JEE editorial by Charles Vest, the former NAE President concludes by encouraging engineering educators to "design curricula, pedagogy, and student experiences will profitably contemplate the new context, competition, content, and challenges of engineering."

The Physiology
Neurologists say that learning is a biological process. Encouraging neural connections is the most fundamental aspect of teaching and learning. With increased understanding of the brain connectivity from studies using a functional MRI, specifically using a method called diffusion-spectrum-imaging, some researchers suggest that within the brain establishes paths, a "wiring diagram" which has been dubbed the Connectome. It's the central subject of study in the NIH-sponsored Human Connectome Project. What does that mean for an educator? A great deal. An appreciation for the physical processes associated with making mental connections are reminders of the importance of learning environment and culture, repetition, perspective, and the use of multiple modes and multiple senses. Findings reinforce the notion that mindset (the collective of habits of mind, attitudes, dispositions, worldview, and affective traits) are learnable and important within the learning process. For example, there is evidence, both performance and electrophysiological, that supports a causal connection between beliefs and learning. That connection is seldom a surprise to an experienced educator, but reinforces the how fundamental the connection is at a physiological level. See Mangels, et. al. in the research folder.

See the folders below for the following:

  • An expanded description of the connections-related outcomes

  • Research references and perspectives on connections

  • A collection of websites and other cards that you can use to promote "connections" within your educational goals (this section will continually be updated, so check back for often)

  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
  • Assess and manage risk
Categories & Tags
  • Engineering Unleashed Resources
  • Professional Learning
  • Comprehensive
An expanded description of the connections-related outcomes
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
CONNECTIONS Detail.pdf Other .pdf 2/14/2018 111 KB 753
Research references and perspectives on connections
Title Type Ext Date Size Downloads
Everett, et.al Integrated Curricula-JEE Other 2/14/2018 -  
Froyd & Ohland, Integrated Engr Cur-JEE Other 2/14/2018 -  
Mangels, et. al., Beliefs influence... Other 2/14/2018 -  
Title Type Ext Date Size Downloads
Book List for Connections Other 10/31/2018 -  
Feel free to use the icon below in presentations, print-outs, etc.
Title Type Ext Date Size Download All Downloads
Connections_icon.png Other .png 7/23/2018 10.9 KB 679