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The aim of the HELENA project was to test if changing the curriculum towards more interdisciplinarity makes engineering degree courses more attractive to women and changes representations. The aim of this paper is to introduce HELENA methodology, to question “interdisciplinarity” and to provide ideas for future research.

HELENA used pragmatic and provisional concepts based on counting the ECTS after deciding a correspondence between a course heading and the classification into one or more disciplines out of engineering and technology as “interdisciplinary”. In addition, qualitative case studies provided additional information on curriculum and students perspectives on the issue. The lack of conceptual consistence of such a definition made the counting process very tricky, but it provided a starting point.

Counting “interdisciplinary” ECTS supposes a clear definition of “discipline”, remembering that disciplines are historical and social constructions in specific contexts. Possible “a-disciplinary” contents as training periods, project work, etc. have to be taken into account too, as well as the curriculum context. How courses are taught and articulated within a coherent (or not) curriculum? Who is teaching? What are the pedagogical issues? Connections with “mode 1 and mode 2” science and technology (Nowotny & Gibbons, 2001) would be helpful. It would mean that the curriculum has to catch up with the new ways of doing science, independently of gender issues.

Beyond interdisciplinarity, HELENA raised questions on engineering education and attractiveness. Various “attraction” criteria interfere with interdisciplinarity: prestige or ranking, job perspectives, personal interest. In addition, in recent years, many changes have affected the curriculum as the Bologna process and the broader access to university. The impact of them has to be taken into account to understand the complex dynamics of attractiveness. We must also warn against risks of stereotyping and gendering the disciplines out of S&T as “feminine”. HELENA raised also questions on engineers’ identity: in terms of specialities, degree level, prestige, opportunities, etc. Curricula and pedagogical strategies may be very different as students’ profiles and motivation may be very different. As a result, comparisons are difficult and we should question how interdisciplinarity impacts in detail the different contexts. We also must re-think the paths to become engineers: students’ paths are less and less linear and we observed students’ demands for more flexibility and mobility, and the role of representations on management, technology etc. Do we re-think engineering education as the quest for a post-modern “Renaissance man – or woman” or an irremediable loss for S&T?

In: GIEE 2011: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers
Formation Interdisciplinaire des Ingénieurs et Problème du Genre
Attracting more young people, particularly women, in Engineering and Technology (ET) is a major concern in Europe today. Their participation in engineering occupations appears to be a key-issue for European economic and technical development, as well as a central achievement towards gender equality and social justice. Increasing young people’s interest in the sciences and mathematics and underlining the importance of Engineering and Technology developments in shaping our collective future is an ongoing project in the education sector. This book presents various analyses and ideas for possible solutions.
Aujourd’hui, attirer plus de jeunes et en particulier des jeunes femmes dans les formations d’ingénieurs est un souci majeur en Europe. C’est une clé pour aller vers l’égalité des sexes et favoriser le développement économique, scientifique et technologique de l’Europe. Accroitre l’intérêt des jeunes pour les sciences et la technologie est essentiel pour notre futur collectif et constitue un défi majeur pour l’éducation. Ce livre présente des analyses et des idées pour de possibles solutions.
In: GIEE 2011: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers
In: GIEE 2011: Gender and Interdisciplinary Education for Engineers