A first port of call for ideas, definitions and resources should be the web site of the Higher Education Academy [www.heacademy.ac.uk] The HEA used to include Subject Centres but in a senseless act of academic vandalism it ceased funding them in about 2010. The two most relevant Subject Centres were Engineering (www.engsc.ac.uk) and Materials (www.materials.ac.uk) and some of the resources they developed and collected are still available via their old web addresses (above).
A further resource available to most engineering academics is the Educational Development Unit (or some similar name) operated by your university. This will be staffed with people who may not be engineers, but for whom much of the subject matter of this chapter is very familiar. They are generally only too pleased to be asked for their help – it’s their job!
If you only ever look at one other book about education, I recommend Elizabeth Barkley’s ‘Student Engagement Techniques’ (2010). It was published after I had written a significant portion of my own text and I found the first part of it so sensible that I almost stopped writing. I finally persuaded myself that Barkley was writing for a general audience, with no slant towards any particular discipline, so I could possibly still add value writing in the context of Engineering. However I have unashamedly included (with proper attribution) many of her ideas and comments in this text.
There are several other very readable books which have been influential in stimulating thought and debate about engineering education. Although the purpose of the current book is to minimise your need to consult them, you may find several of them interesting, particularly if you wish to follow up any of the ideas presented rather sketchily here. They also contain more of the evidence which supports some of my assertions. The volumes by Paul Ramsden ‘Learning to Teach in Higher Education’ (2003) and John Biggs ‘Teaching for Quality Learning at University’ (1999) are classics in the field. Diana Laurillard ‘Rethinking University Teaching’ (2002) is wise and knowledgeable about the use of technology in teaching. Noel Entwistle’s ‘Teaching for Understanding at University’ (2009) is a thoughtful analysis of what we have learned from educational research, written by an experienced researcher with a background in Physics. Graham Gibbs’ work at Oxford and elsewhere has been very influential – for example his ‘Teaching Students to Learn’ (1981) is short and pithy. ‘A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education – Enhancing Academic Practice’ (2003) edited by Heather Fry and her colleagues contains, in 400 pages, articles on a variety of topics including small group teaching, and teaching of experimental science and engineering. The volume by Warren Houghton ‘Learning and Teaching Theory for Engineering Academics’ (2004) is a brief summary of what we have learned from educational research, while the books by Sheri Sheppard et al ‘Educating Engineers’ (2008) and Crawley et al ‘Rethinking Engineering Education; The CDIO Approach’ (2014) contain specific recommendations about the future of engineering education.
There are also several journals which publish research into engineering education. Among the most useful are the Journal of Engineering Education (published by ASEE – the American Association for Engineering Education – in partnership with a network of international engineering education organizations.), and the European Journal of Engineering Education (published by SEFI, the European Society for Engineering Education – strictly Société Européenne pour la Formation des Ingénieurs).
Last but not least you should read (or at least dip into) the Robert Pirsig classic ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘ (1974). I was far too young to appreciate it when I first read it, shortly after it was published in paperback in 1976, but in my maturity I recommend it to anyone who wants to consider what a university is about. Read Chapter 13 for a discussion of the purpose and nature of a university, Chapter 16 for a passionate argument for the abolition of grading and degree classifications and Chapter 22 for an enlightened discourse on why many of the laws and systems we use as scientists and engineers are convenient rather than true. In Chapter 26 Pirsig presents the useful Japanese concept of ‘mu’ – the third answer to a question which was intended to elicit either yes or no. As I understand it, ‘mu’ might mean that the question is unanswerable or inappropriate (the wrong question to be asking) or that the answer is indeterminate. What a useful response to be able to give!
In Chapter 28 you will find further reference to the ‘Great Books‘ programmes initiated at the University of Chicago, which I mentioned in Chapter 1.
Throughout Zen, Pirsig returns time and again to the idea of quality and the triple difficulties of defining it, teaching it and assessing it. I suggest that if this issue has not troubled you in your teaching, then you have not thought about it seriously enough. Read Pirsig and at least realize that you are not alone in struggling with the absolute measurement of quality. [QAA, and equivalent bodies outside the UK, please note.]
End of chapter – please post a comment