Friday, 29 June 2012

Rethinking Engineering Education

I'm reading this book at the moment, which advocates two changes the the structure of engineering education. I'm convinced by one of these, but far less so by the other.

The first of the changes is the contextualisation of engineering education as preparation for a professional life practising what they refer to as CDIO: Conceptualisation, Design, Implementation, and Operation.

I'm 100% behind this - engineering is not merely maths and science, though we must give students a firm grasp of this fundamental knowledge. We use this knowledge to achieve specific goals, which the authors of this book define a little clunkily as  

"Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate complex value-added engineering products, processes, and systems in a modern, team-based environment."

The second change is one I am a little suspicious of - combining the change defined above with a one towards a highly problem based learning approach, inspired by "constructivism", a "theory of learning" with little empirical evidence to support it. 

Before I undertook a teaching qualification I had no idea how flimsy the underpinnings of educational fashions are. PBL and its related approaches come in and out of fashion in education on a cyclical basis. They sound  good, and are certainly popular with students when well executed, but are abandoned when educationalists learn once again that they are a very poor way to teach fundamentals. To the extent that they show any positive results in learning outcomes, it is in teaching professional skills.

I like these techniques, as do my students, and I use them when I want to make my students integrate what they have learned elsewhere, but we cannot replace traditional teaching methods wholesale and hope to turn out graduates ready to engineer.

I'll see if they successfully address these issues later in the book, but no "educational theory" stands up to scrutiny as a technique for improving learning.

No comments: