Classroom: Technology Assessment
What do high-speed rail, spinal implants, and lie detectors have in common? They’re all among the technologies Thayer Master of Engineering Management (M.E.M.) students investigate in ENGM 178: Technology Assessment. By analyzing prevalent and emerging technologies, students can recommend and justify actions for the technologies’ future development — and acquire analytical experience for future careers.
“A technology assessment task or function is likely one of the things they will get assigned to do early in their careers,” says Professor and M.E.M. program director Robert Graves, who teaches the course. “The nature of technology assessment and the way we do the course causes them to sometimes move outside the specifics of their engineering discipline preparation. We might have a student who’s a civil engineer in preparation but doing a technology assessment project on a chemical-related project area like methane hydrates, so it broadens their technical breadth.”
The approximately 50 students in the fall-term course spent the first few weeks learning assessment tools, such as the Delphi method (querying experts on a problem until a consensus is reached), cross-impact analysis (identifying the effects that multiple events have on each other), and exponential smoothing for forecasting data. Then teams got down to assessing actual technologies under the guidance of a faculty advisor and an outside mentor associated with the field.
For their project, students Prateek Reddy and Yiming Liu chose to study the LCD monitor technologies for General Electric Healthcare’s C-Arm surgery device. The two worked on cutting costs by finding off-the-shelf LCD monitors to replace the current custom-made monitors that GE Healthcare has been using. “We’ve found a few alternative monitors that meet most requirements,” Reddy reported during the term, “and we want to explore the future of these devices as well as the possibilities of using other technologies to make the monitors more user-friendly.”
Reddy likes what the course demands. “The course blends my technological background and the skills that I wanted to develop in the M.E.M. program, like teamwork and communication,” he says.
Reddy’s project advisor, Professor Solomon Diamond, says he tries to prepare students for the competitive global marketplace. “I guide them to challenge the assumptions that they encounter and develop their own understanding of the technology,” he says. “Then I guide them to envision the unanticipated future trajectories and consequences of the technology. I hope that the students learn how to think critically and operate intelligently in a world of complex technology, fiercely competitive markets, and multifaceted social, political, environmental, and ethical factors.”
— Elizabeth Kelsey