Tinkering with Technology: How Experiential Engineering Ethics Pedagogy Can Accommodate Neurodivergent Students and Expose Ableist Assumptions

J.B. van Grunsven*, T.M. Franssen, A.R. Gammon, L. Marin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review


The guiding premise of this chapter is that we, as teachers in higher education, must consider how the content and form of our teaching can foster inclusivity through a responsiveness to neurodiverse learning styles. A narrow pedagogical focus on lectures, textual engagement, and essay-writing threatens to exclude neurodivergent students whose ways of learning and making sense of the world may not be best supported through these traditional forms of pedagogy. As we discuss in this chapter, we, as engineering ethics educators, designed and implemented a new engineering ethics exercise with which we aimed to promote inclusivity at the levels of form and content. At the content level, students were invited to critically engage with inclusivity-undermining ableist assumptions in technology development. This took shape, at the form level, through a hands-on ‘material tinkering’ workshop in which students collaboratively and creatively altered (or ‘hacked’) artifacts used in contexts of disability and healthcare, so as to operationalize values of inclusivity and accessibility. Our hunch was that this hands-on tinkering workshop would simultaneously encourage a meaningful way of engagement with these ethical issues and values, while also enacting a more inclusive learning environment by enriching the range of pedagogical activities and learning formats available to our students.

As we aim to show in this chapter, we believe this hunch largely panned out – though there are clear areas for future improvement pertaining to the pilot exercise itself and the research we conducted on the exercise. We begin by offering a description of our tinkering exercise. We discuss the exercise’s source of inspiration (Sect. 16.2.1) and its implementation (Sect. 16.2.2), which is visually captured via photographic documentation. We then discuss (Sect. 16.3) how we utilized a triangulated research method to assess the pedagogical value of the exercise. After we discuss our findings, we conclude by identifying areas for future improvement (Sect. 16.4).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBuilding Inclusive Ethical Cultures in STEM
EditorsElisabeth Hildt, Kelly Laas, Eric M. Brey, Christine Z. Miller
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-031-51560-6
ISBN (Print)978-3-031-51559-0
Publication statusPublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project https://www.openaccess.nl/en/you-share-we-take-care Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public.


  • Neurodiversity
  • Ableism
  • Engineering ethics education
  • Tinkering
  • Inclusivity


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