The need to “know where we are” has been identified (Rover, 2008) as the first step in moving to “where we want to go.” This chapter aims to demonstrate that understanding how our culture is formed and sustained, at a departmental, disciplinary, or institutional level, is the first step toward sustainable cultural change. The suggested conceptual framework of cultural dimensions has the ability to act as a practical tool for evaluating and positioning the culture of engineering education in a specific context, as a precursor to developing strategies for transformational change. These cultural dimensions are based on the work of Godfrey (2003a, 2007, 2009) and Godfrey and Parker (2010), who used ethnographic methods within an overarching interpretivist research paradigm to identify the shared assumptions and understandings that underpinned the lived experiences of staff and students as manifested in one institution as the basis for theory development.
References to “culture” and cultural change as key to systemic reforms have been plentiful in literature, including in engineering education (Bucciarelli, Einstein, Terenzini, & Walser, 2000, p. 141; Cordes, Evans, Frair, & Froyd, 1999; IEAust, 1996). The implicit assumption underlying these calls for cultural change – that a common, recognizable engineering education culture exists – has been questioned by scholars (Godfrey, 2007; Williams, 2002). Engineering educators undoubtedly recognize practices and behaviors that transcend differences in engineering specialization, institutions, and even national boundaries. Comments such as “[T]he predominant engineering school culture [is] based on compartmentalization of knowledge, individual specialization, and a wholly research-based reward structure” (Bucciarelli et al., 2000, p. 141), and “In engineering schools, it is generally assumed that propositional technical knowledge, discovered using a reductionist research paradigm, is the prime source of professional knowledge necessary for preparing students for the profession” (Radcliffe, 2006, p. 263), have been viewed as incontestable assumptions.