learning to listen (l2l)

Learning to Listen (L2L) teaches students the method of ethnographic listening to diverse publics who are affected by engineering practices and products but whose voices are often ignored. It cautions that failure to consider such voices can leave engineers vulnerable to incomplete understanding of complex issues, self-interest, and institutional pressures that can contribute to suboptimal professional decisions, unethical conduct, and even public harm.

Based on the premise that morality is not a fixed theoretical body of knowledge that exists apart from day-to-day living and professional practice, L2L challenges the notion that comprehension of moral codes, theories, and principles alone equips engineers to determine what constitutes “ethical” professional conduct in different contexts and at different times. The training fosters ethical decision-making not as abstract determinations of “right” and “wrong,” but as direct engagement with local experiences, knowledges, and values, and careful assessment of what in each circumstance constitutes appropriate use of professional power and technical expertise.

Key learning objectives of this module are to:

  • Recognize that the boundary between a) politically dominant paradigms of engineering/science thought and practice and b) marginalized knowledge claims, is often nebulous and fluid.
  • Recognize that members of the public have the capacity to understand and contribute to engineering/science by expanding, challenging, and even correcting officially-sanctioned beliefs, theories, and knowledge.
  • Begin to practice effective listening to diverse communities and perspectives, especially those traditionally silenced, when making decisions that can affect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
  • Think critically about whether official reports about engineering/science include voices of marginalized stakeholders, and become familiar with a wide range of informational sources beyond official documents and records (e.g., personal narratives, unofficial reports, citizen-led science) to investigate all sides of an engineering/science controversy.

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