Theory of science for engineers
January 28, 2021 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I suddenly got a new job. It's good, but my first day of teaching is on Wednesday, it is remote teaching, and I am 500 km from my personal library and the university library. There are many things I will need to read up on, and maybe I will post additional questions, but right now I am worried about a specific aspect of the course. The course description says this is an introduction to theory of science. Where can I find recourses online to teach this to college level engineering students?

Our system is not the US system. The students are at their first year of a professional education, but this is a university and we have to keep up university standards. In general, they are good at practical stuff, not so much at reading. English can be a problem too, so I need simple texts. I have plans for a lot of the engineering-specific literature and I have it here, but all my science-theory stuff is 500 km away, and I won't be able to return for at least a month because of corona. I would prefer that we did that part of the course now, so we could focus on shop-work when we can get back on campus.
I am not worried about my teaching aspect of this, it is the online availability of relevant and suitable materials I am searching for.
posted by mumimor to Education (7 answers total)
If they're good at practical stuff, you might try a few days of discovery-based approach to mapping out major questions and challenges. Nowadays we accept so much science on authority, from books or teachers, without much caring how the knowledge was created-- take a class or two and tell the students you'd like to review how we learn about the natural world when we can't rely on someone else to have figured it out for us.

Have the students just look around them and generate questions, or give them a few seed ideas of your own. Then pick the easiest and discuss how you could empirically figure out the answer, assuming you couldn't just Google it or remember it from second grade. What tools would you need? What possible errors could you make? How could the process go wrong, or yield a non-obvious wrong answer? What would it take to generalize your specific findings into a general belief about the natural entity you were examining? Could you use this same process to answer other, similar questions? Which types of questions wouldn't it work for? And rinse and repeat with the next point of curiosity, being careful never to allow them to take the teachers' word for it, but to always insist on seeing it for themselves.

A couple of rounds of that should yield a really nice map of major issues and debates over theory of science, plus they'd end with a salutary dose of intellectual humility as regards the difficulty of learning about the natural world in a rigorous empirical way. From there, you could probably divide up the issues and rely on current articles to explore how science has continued to navigate similar methodological challenges to the present day.
posted by Bardolph at 3:19 PM on January 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Bardolph, I really like your approach and it is inspirational, but I need literature!
posted by mumimor at 3:28 PM on January 28, 2021

I don't know of any resources for exactly that topic, but you might try some of the repositories of open educational resources (OER):
OER Commons,
MIT OpenCourseWare
posted by hydropsyche at 3:42 PM on January 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'll add LibreTexts to hydropsyche's list.
posted by kathrynm at 7:30 PM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here is a MOOC on the philosophy of science in engineering, which sounds close to what you are teaching. Swedish, so some care is also given to make materials in English for non-native speakers. Might have some resources you could use.
posted by seasparrow at 7:37 PM on January 28, 2021

The typical approach to this type of thing is to find 1) the syllabus and course materials from the last few people in your department who taught the class and 2) the syllabus of the same class at other universities. You should definitely reach out to other faculty. In my department, we regularly pass around huge folders of all the course material with the expectation that the next person teaching will use it all (or really as much as they want). Don't build this from scratch, you'll drown.
posted by lab.beetle at 8:05 PM on January 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for all your inputs. I will return to this ask in the future. Since everything was very last minute, I devised a test to gauge the level of knowledge and experience of the students, and today I talked with my boss about the requirements of the course. He agrees that theory of knowledge is beyond their comprehension.
IF I get my "old" course back, your suggestions are very relevant, so I thank you all.
posted by mumimor at 4:21 PM on February 12, 2021

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