Emergent Areas in Engineering Education over the last two decades



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Emergent Areas in Engineering Education over the last two decades

Bill Williams

Barreiro College of Technology,

Setubal Polytechnic Institute, Portugal.

Given the workshop format of our encounter and the word limit imposed I have opted to use hyperlinks within this précis (all accessed 14/9/2008) rather than a detailed reference section, and a Mindmap to illustrate links between some key concepts.

In recent years I have spent some time exploring measures to encourage discussion and implementation of new approaches to learning in engineering education and I would like to lead off here with a Mindmap I have found useful in organizing my own thoughts and promoting discussion among colleagues. This is still something of a work in progress so I welcome suggestions for additions, removals or reorganization of the items included.
The left-hand strand shows a fairly well established group of concepts within the field of engineering education although it should be said that in many countries the majority of engineering faculty may not include many of these concepts or practices within their repertoire.
The right-hand side includes a group of concepts which can be seen as growing in importance in higher education in general and I would argue that in the future learning context of engineering education and the ongoing learning of engineering professionals these approaches are likely to increase in significance.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)
The term itself began to be employed after the publication in 1990 of Scholarship Reconsidered by Ernest Boyer, then head of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Boyer proposed that there are four forms of academic scholarship:

Scholarship of Discovery: frontier research

Scholarship of Integration: applied research that builds on and extends frontier research

Scholarship of Application: applied research that directly benefits society

Scholarship of Teaching (later renamed Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) studying education and using the results to improve it Boyer argued that all four scholarships were equally important components of the academic mission, but only the scholarship of discovery was fully recognized and rewarded by the prevailing system of faculty performance evaluation.
However, I would trace the emergence of the SOTL strand back to the earlier appearance of Richard Felder’s 1988 paper on Learning and Teaching Styles in Engineering Education which concluded that there was a mismatch between most engineering education practice and the learning styles of most engineering students. Felder later broadened his approach from the rather narrow scope that Learning Styles studies afforded to embrace Active, Collaborative and Problem-based Learning and the 90’s saw the publication of a considerable volume of work, including meta-studies and some longitudinal research, evaluating the use of these approaches and sharing banks of activities to promote Active Learning on engineering courses.
The introduction of the ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 with its focus on outcome-based education increased the interest in these approaches in the US and also had a powerful knock-on effect on other engineering education systems: East Asian countries like Malaysia, Korea and Taiwan have been making strenuous efforts to move from Provisional to Full Membership of the Washington Accord and this has had profound implications for their educational practice.
Although the bulk of this work was carried out in the US there have also been some parallel developments in Europe with, for example, INSA-Lyon offering a two-year curriculum in Technology Science and Innovation using active learning while the Amsterdam University of Professional Education provides a competency-based program leading to a primary degree in Engineering Design and Education. It is interesting to note in Europe that, although the Bologna Process encouraged a strong movement towards competence-based education, engineering was not included in the 9 subject areas chosen for definition of key competences within phases 1 and 2 of the Tuning Methodology.
Remote Laboratories

Such laboratories have increasingly been seen in Portugal and elsewhere as an important response to the needs of distance students for laboratory access and the trend is reinforced by administrators seeking efficiency by allowing round-the-clock access to expensive facilities. The data-processing capacity made possible by recent IT advances has played a significant part here and proprietary equipment and software such as Labview are commonly used.


Nevertheless, the cost and logistical implications of the Remote Lab approach have also led to an intensification of the attention devoted to the modelling potential of Virtual Laboratories which although still at a relatively early stage of development would appear to offer the possibility of progressively more life-like simulation of laboratory situations and outcomes. An example of potential for these two approaches in helping us understand learning processes can be found in recent work at Oregon State University comparing the thought processes of student and practising engineers in dealing with specific virtual laboratory problems.
Certainty-based Marking

This approach has been championed by Tony Gardner-Medwin of University College London, to encourage reflective learning. It is applied to multiple choice questions and the learner is expected to indicate the reliability of the answer they choose. It may be used for summative assessment but Gardner-Medwin recommends it particularly for formative assessment where learners themselves are testing their competences. Although some studies have proposed a possible gender or personality bias inherent in this approach, the UCL workers say they have found no evidence for this.


EElearning

This approach is an interesting offshoot of the e-learning behemoth in that it aims to be a combination of the information technologies associated with electronic learning and the pedagogical principles associated with experiential learning. A recent number of Innovate magazine was devoted to examples of this mode of instruction.
Communities of Practice (CoPS)
Etienne Wenger describes Communities of Practice as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” and his original concept based on studies on such informal communities within groups of professionals (and proposed back in 1991 before the advent of online learning communities) have been widely adopted in professional training and life-long learning contexts and come to be seen as particularly important for online learning.

Following from the application of CoP notions of Domain, Community and Practice to online learning and the widespread adoption of Learning Management Systems across the higher education spectrum, Wenger and his co-workers have seen an increasing need for learning professionals possessing a new portfolio of skills who they refer to as Technology Stewards: “people with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community”. Their long-awaited book on this subject is expected early in 2009.


Both Wenger and the UK Open University have a strong interest in the related field of Practice-based Learning, defined as learning which arises out of, or is focussed on, working practice in a chosen job, voluntary work, career, or profession” and one waits with interest to see what might emerge from recent collaboration between the two.
Web 2.0

Since the term was first mooted by Tim O Reilly in 2004 it has come to loosely apply to what may be considered a qualitatively different model for designing and interacting on the Web. The underlying concepts can be somewhat elusive (Web 2.0 has been described as a “living term”) but in practical terms its advent has opened up significant new and more agile ways of working and collaborating online. What long-term effect it may have on engineering education and interaction between engineering professionals remains to be seen.


Virtual Worlds

Although this field is still very much in its infancy in academic and engineering terms, the number of academic institutions and major companies who have begun working with Second Life do suggest there may be considerable potential here for future learning contexts, perhaps in alliance with existing work on virtual labs.



Work in progress

At ESTBarreiro and ISEL, two engineering colleges in the Greater Lisbon area, we have a team which is now completing the first of a three year Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology-funded project studying the use of Active and Collaborative Learning (ACL) methods through peer-observation and self-observation of videoed classes in a range of subject areas.


The aim is to work initially with a core group of interested lecturers who progressively introduce and develop the techniques in their teaching practice with Web 2.0 tools being used to facilitate online communication within the group. This group will then be encouraged to disseminate the use of ACL techniques through mentoring and Community of Practice enabling approaches.
In conclusion

The central question I would be grateful for feedback on from workshop participants would be this: what approaches or practices have you found useful in promoting dialogue between the broad community of practitioners who do not see engineering studies or the scholarship of teaching and learning in engineering as particularly important, and the (somewhat smaller) group who do?


The author gratefully acknowledges support from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) within the project PTDC / CED / 69529 / 2006.


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