Teachable moments and the tyranny of the syllabus: September 11 case
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon presented unique teachable moments to engineering educators but with the competing demand to complete the course as designed and as dictated by the tyranny of the syllabus. A questionnaire was administered to undergraduate students enrolled in three professional ethics courses in 2001 and 2002 to ascertain the extent to which their instructors used the events as teachable moments. For comparison, the questionnaire was administered 1 year after the attacks to students enrolled in courses of an academic enrichment program at Duke University and environmental science students at North Carolina Central University. The percentage of courses addressing the events was highest in the Fall 2001 semester, when the attacks occurred, falling in the Spring 2002 semester, but increasing in Fall 2002. Most respondents supported the use of the events as teachable moments even if the syllabus and course outline had to be adjusted. The results indicate that engineering education must be open to opportunities to teach physical science and engineering concepts and to introduce the students to the social sciences and humanities.
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