Friday, 27 September 2013

TCE Article: Practitioner Led Teaching

I've got an article in the latest edition of the Chemical Engineer magazine. It starts like this....
It seems to practising engineers like myself that in recent years, Chemical Engineering education in universities has had less and less to do with engineering practice.

As recently as the 1980s, Chemical Engineering courses were delivered with significant input and guidance from experienced practitioners, but the content of many UK degree programmes now consists almost exclusively of mathematics and science delivered by academic researchers, very few of whom have ever practised as an engineer.

Whilst an engineer is a competent mathematician and scientist, there is far more to an engineering education than acquiring knowledge in these areas. Engineers bring these together with professional judgement, intuitive understanding and a number of key creative skills to provide viable solutions to a certain class of real world problems.

So what has been lost in the move from practitioner-led to researcher-led engineering education?

Firstly (and arguably most damagingly), drawing skills. Engineers think and model plants using drawings, as well as mathematics and science. For example, you cannot work out the system head associated with a pump from first principles. You need to prepare a scale drawing of the system, fit the pipework where it goes (taking into consideration zoning, safety, aesthetics, planning considerations, economics and so on) and then measure the length of the resulting pipe and the number of fittings required to take it from source to destination.

That plant layout will always generate few research papers may be the reason why many departments no longer teach it at all, but engineering practice is more art than science. It is creative, but what makes it interesting is that its innovation is constrained...

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