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Speaking the core message

At the St Albans Writers Festival last weekend I was confronted with the task of trying to explain – briefly – what a project about ‘Aboriginal Engineering’ is about. Here is my ‘short speech’.  It’s still a draft, but closer to articulating what I think of our goal/ task/intent.

Circa 1770 there was as much engineering on the landscape of the continent we now call ‘Australia’, as there was on the landscape of Europe. It was, however, vastly different engineering; built on a very different world view and sustained by very different beliefs, principles and cultures. When Europeans arrived in large numbers they simply did not recognise what they were seeing, so had no trouble subverting it and allowing it to wither away – where they did not actually destroy it.

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Intersecting Worldviews with which to explore Aboriginal Engineering

Wherever there are competing worldviews, there are also competing motivations and agendas. Awareness of this shaped our exploration of how engage with Aboriginal students, and their communities, in regard to developing greater interest in engineering as a career.

In seeking to focus our work we identified three particular worldviews with which to explore aspects of the interactions among engineering activity and community needs and goals. These worldviews were chosen from among the many that are available, and we use them as tools for exploration, without suggesting they are the only ways of seeing the world.

Developing a Model and finding The Intersection

Project Goals

The primary work of this project is to assist Engineering Educators develop and sustain inclusive learning environments by “Integrating Indigenous Student Support Through Indigenous Perspectives Embedded In Engineering Curricula”. A major difference between this approach and others presently being generated, is that the focus is primarily on assisting non-indigenous individuals and groups grasp the realities of Indigenous engineering approaches to common problems, rather than on ‘helping’ Indigenous students ‘fit in’ to academic environments.

An Unanticipated Addition

What is Engineering – really?

While this seems to be an easy question to address – appearances can deceive. This entry briefly introduces how we are considering the term, and provides a base from which we will introduce and explore the broad and fascinating topic of Aboriginal engineering. The following definitions were our beginning points. Like all good models (and definitions) they are simultaneously useful and wrong – in line with Box and Draper’s (1987) observations in this regard.

Key elements are the –

  • focus on ‘problem-based’ activity
  • solution-seeking orientation
  • design and implementation of solutions to known, and emerging, problems

Comparing Engineering disciplines and practices

The table linked to this post, Engineering parallels is the beginning of a set of resources about how Aboriginal engineers addressed similar problems to those facing all other civilisations.

While all Engineers faced the same problems, there was a key difference in the way that their underlying social principles and beliefs created conditions that meant Aboriginal engineers responded to their needs in unique ways, generating very different outcomes and solutions.
The general paradigms of engineering appear settled and familiar. However current engineering concepts are comparatively modern although they may appear settled and long term. Quite inadvertently this project is unsettling many taken-for-granted assumptions and beliefs about how to think about engineering and Aboriginal culture.

What do you mean ‘Indigenous Engineering’?

Introduction

This Blog is a public access source for anyone who is interested in the work of the OLT project titled ‘Engineering Across Cultures‘. The project is focusing on  advising on ways to create inclusive learning environments for Indigenous students in Engineering Faculites. And – by extension – it aims to contribute to The field of Engineering knowledge a means of acquiring and consolidating information about the engineering expertise of Aboriginal peoples living in Australia for the more than 40,000 years prior to the arrival of Western concepts of engineering in the period after the 16th century.

The Question