2.6 Background influences

Many professional and governmental bodies take an interest in the education of engineers. Accrediting bodies such as the Engineering Council in the UK (via UK-SPEC), ABET in the US, and AMS in Australia appear to wield considerable influence over teaching (if not learning) in universities which offer engineering programmes. In this book I will not consider these influences further, except to comment that most accreditation bodies lag behind developments in teaching and learning and the sensible educator’s approach to them might be to first develop pedagogically-sound, interesting and challenging engineering programmes and only then seek accreditation for them, in the knowledge that you have tried to do your best for the students. Why should such a programme be rejected?

A further set of influences is provided by the agreement among 45 or more European countries (the Bologna declaration) to harmonise the overall structure of university degrees. This agreement, whose first version was signed in 1999, initially attempted to harmonise the periods of time associated with learning at each stage of higher education. It originally posited a 3+2+3 structure, which implied 3 years of study to a Bachelor qualification, followed (if desired) by 2 years of study to a Masters degree and a further 3 years to a doctorate. It was not easy for all countries to adapt their education systems to this rather rigid pattern, and it was pointed out by many observers that the outcomes of each stage of education  were far more important than the time taken. However outcomes are much harder to define (see the discussion of ‘graduateness’ above) and the Bologna process is slowly evolving via a continuing series of further agreements [in Prague, Berlin, Bergen, London, Leuven, Budapest, Vienna and Bucharest – see www.ehea.info]. The Bologna agreement has nothing specific to say about how we might teach engineering, so will not be considered further here.

In 1995 the Carnegie Foundation set up a body (subsequently known as the Boyer Commission) to review the Education of Undergraduates in the Research University (implicitly in the USA). Since much of engineering education is carried out in so-called research universities (even outside the US) it is worth looking at some of their, quite far-reaching, ideas.

‘This report does not enter the continuing discussion of the content of the undergraduate curriculum – whether there should be more science, more mathematics, more foreign language, more anything – and it does not address the issue that has come to be labelled ‘The Canon,’ the body of writings deemed to be the requisite possession of the educated person. Those matters concern every institution involved in baccalaureate education. ‘ [Boyer report: Kenny, 1998]

The Boyer report Kenny, (1998) proposed a Student Bill of Rights and made recommendations, of which a few are repeated (with occasional paraphrasing), here
‘… students should be able to engage in research in as many courses as possible, … [and] must learn how to convey the results of their work effectively both orally and in writing;

A student embarking upon a degree program at a research university should be adequately prepared to meet the intellectual challenges of that program; if remediation is necessary, it should be completed before entering the program;

Every freshman experience needs to include opportunities for learning through collaborative efforts such as joint projects and mutual critiques of oral and written work.

The inquiry-based learning, collaborative efforts, and expectations for writing and speaking that are part of the freshman experience need to be carried throughout the program

… integrate major fields with supporting courses so that the program becomes an integrated whole rather than a collection of disparate courses [or modules]

Academic majors must reflect students’ needs rather than School interests or convenience;

All student grades should reflect both mastery of content and ability to convey content. Both expectations should be made clear to students Courses [modules] throughout the curriculum should reinforce communication skills by routinely asking for written and oral exercises;

Faculty should be alert to the need to help students discover how to frame meaningful questions thoughtfully rather than merely seeking answers because computers can provide them. The thought processes to identify problems should be emphasized from the first year, along with the readiness to use technology to fullest advantage;

Capstone courses appropriate to the discipline need to be part of every undergraduate program. Ideally the capstone course should bring together faculty member, graduate students, and senior undergraduates in shared or mutually reinforcing projects. [We might call a capstone course a final year project];

School leaders should be faculty members with a demonstrated commitment to undergraduate teaching and learning as well as to traditionally defined research;

The correlation between good undergraduate teaching and good research must be recognized in promotion and tenure decisions;

A ‘culture of teaching’ within Schools should be cultivated to heighten the prestige of teaching and emphasize the linkages between teaching and research.’

And finally (you will like this one):

‘Rewards for teaching excellence, for participation in interdisciplinary programs, and for outstanding mentorship need to be in the form of permanent salary increases rather than one-time awards.’

Notice the emphasis on student thoughtfulness, inquisitiveness, collaborative learning (which we might today call team or group work), on fluent and persuasive writing skills, and on enlightened leadership, as well as on research itself. This was pretty good stuff in 1998, and resonates well with our preoccupations more than a decade later.

Read on …  (but first leave a comment)

3 All Responses to “2.6 Background influences”

  1. goodhew

    Need to add back in the links 

  2. Peter Goodhew

    This is a good target for the first-year of all engineering programmes. I’m not sure that it is met by all current programmes.

  3. Peter Goodhew

    I should add a reference to EURO-CASE, the European Council of Applied Sciences and Engineering, which exists to promote excellent engineering in Europe.


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