Refocusing Engineering Revision

When I started this blog two years ago, I was convinced there had to be a better way for students to learn engineering concepts. Having professors talk monotonously at an overhead screen while showing page after page of convoluted equations offers, at best, a modicum of useful insight into how one would go about solving real-world engineering problems. Having spent twenty years in industry before returning to school for my doctorate, I’ve got a fair idea as to what skills engineers use outside of the university. And, Lord knows, as I conclude my seventh year in a PhD program, I’ve sat through my share of incredibly dry lectures.

Back in 2010, I thought that better presentations, maybe Khan Academy style, would provide a simple solution. I kept pointing out to my (very patient) friends the ridiculousness of having half the calculus students in the country learning from below-average instructors. Well-produced videos seemed to me a means for addressing this problem. But it appears that mere window dressing is not what learners need. There is evidence that active learning, social engagement and spaced repetition are critical components in effective learning. The relative important of these factors, however, and the precise role they play in enhancing the education of engineering students is as yet unknown (at least to me). For this reason, I’ve not written a lot of posts in the past year and a half; I’ve simply not been able to intelligently address the issue of how engineers can best be taught.

However, a recent stream of news articles related to STEM education seems to indicate that a lot of others think they know how the job should be done. To me, these approaches seem intent on doing more of what we’ve always done; and I must admit to being apprehensive of cranking up the rate at which engineers are being produced, without a considered modification of instructional methods or curriculum focus. Thus, my intent is to refocus this blog on asking questions about what engineers do, how they think, and what duties they perform. In doing so, it is my hope that answers about engineering education will arise. If I can’t offer solutions, then perhaps I can perform a useful service by asking the right questions.

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