Joint Interdisciplinary Master Project at TU Delft: the idea whose time has come.

Thursday 24 May, Buccaneer Delft, the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education, TU Delft staff, students, and industries organised the kick-off of the so-called Joint Interdisciplinary Project (JIP) pilot for about 30 Master engineering students. The location was  special: the Buccaneer, a beautifully restored artillery warehouse in the historic town centre of Delft that’s in use by start-up accelerators in the energy, water and maritime sector.

Interdisciplinary is the new way to go

You  can’t have missed my vision that interdisciplinary thinking is rapidly gaining prominence in the engineering profession, and in many other professions as well. In the near future the most breakthroughs with high impact are expected at the fringes of disciplines. Increasingly the universities of technology have to prepare their Master and PhD students to cross the border of their specialism and to communicate with people who have backgrounds in other technical or non-engineering disciplines. The students have to learn to respect the ideas and ways of working that are common in other disciplines. Soon the days of the solo researcher or solo designer come to an end.

I am convinced that students will also have to emphasise their learning more on how to do what intelligent machines cannot. Intelligent machines for example are not impressive at unquantifiable thinking, cannot yet imagine, synthesise or experience the infinite contexts of the chaos of human life.  In the age of emerging Artificial Intelligence engineers of flesh and blood can only conquer the intelligent machines when they have learnt to think in ways that cannot be imitated by (networks of) intelligent machines.

Although the trend in research and higher education towards the individual mastery of deeper specialisations continues unabated, employers in engineering business cry out for more synthesis and collaborative skills. They increasingly recruit engineers with the capabilities of developing the outline for holistic designs.

“The spirit of engineering cannot be acquired through academic life” (Quote Harris J. Ryan of Stanford, 1920)

Universities can not stick their heads in the sand. We have to teach the bigger picture of engineering and technology, including the economics, politics and other societal aspects. That’s why TU Delft’s new vision on education underlines the solving of societal challenges, which includes a solid grounding in interdisciplinary skills, sustainability and entrepreneurial thinking.

Trigger for change

Professor Rob Mudde, Vice-Rector Magnificus/Vice-President of Education in TU Delft’s Executive Board at the kick-off event (private photo)

This has been the trigger for the Faculties of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, and Civil Engineering and Geosciences to join forces and take the lead in the development of a 10-week full-time interdisciplinary project for second-year Master students. The project is being co-created by academic staff, industrial experts and students of multiple disciplines. The students will work in teams of about five in close collaboration with experts from industry and academics from the university on real-life challenges that have high societal and temporal relevance. Because engineering education in Delft has been driven by the T-shaped professional since decades, with deep expertise and research as the main attributes of the Master curricula, the project will become one of the very few opportunities for students to cross their disciplinary border and work in an interdisciplinary team with professionals.

Not a bolt-on activity

The uniqueness of the project lies in the fact that it will be contained within many regular Master curricula. Considering the short time frame, the large variety in regulations and time-tables, the different set-ups between the different Master programmes, this seems almost a miracle. So far, many other educational collaborative projects in the Master have been mono-disciplinary or  “bolt-on” activities, such as the fabulous D:DREAM student projects.  In some Master programmes the JIP project will substitute the obligatory internship, in some others it will be treated as a big elective course or as an honours project.

Precursor to Interdisciplinary Collaborative Master Thesis

The ultimate goal is to develop the JIP project further into an interdisciplinary collaborative thesis project of about 45 credits (EC), equivalent to a substantial 1260 working hours per participant. Such thesis project will be made available as an option to any Master student of TU Delft. In the near future possibly even to students of University Leiden or Erasmus University Rotterdam to also include humanities and social sciences aspects.

Involvement of industrial  branch organisations

Setting the scene of the Joint Interdisciplinary Project during the kick-off (private photo)

The unique nature of the project lies in the strong interest and support of major industrial branch organisations like the Dutch Employers’ Organisation in the Technology Industry FME, the Netherlands Marine Technology Trade Association NMT, the area of knowledge-oriented companies Delftechpark, the Association of Dutch Suppliers in the Upstream Oil and Gas Industry and Offshore Renewable industry IRO, the Association of Space Companies in the Netherlands SpaceNed and the Royal Netherlands Society for Engineers KIVI.

Student interest

Thursday 24 May we organised the kick-off event with industries, academic staff and about 30 students who have their background in the Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering and Geosciences. Also students of the Faculties of Applied Sciences (Chemical Engineering), Technology, Policy and Management, and Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computers Sciences showed interest to join. Students from the Faculties of Architecture and the Built Environment have also shown interest, but it is not yet sure whether they can adapt their individual programme in time. It is one of the first occasions that almost all faculties are enthusiast and onboard of such interdisciplinary adventure. So it is no surprise that the students who attended the kick-off, all expressed their great enthusiasm. They told me they had been eagerly looking for such opportunity in their Master’s to broaden their scope and better prepare for the engineering profession. Also the Executive Board of the university highly supports the initiative.

“A good engineer must strike a balance between
knowing and doing, between the how-and-when and the what-and-why”

Race against time

The development of the pilot of the Joint Interdisciplinary Project (JIP) is a race against time. Educational developers in consultation with didactic experts are engaged in defining the educational concept of coaching, supervision, reporting and assessment. They refine  the intended learning outcomes I conceptualised about a month ago in my individual capacity. The industries translate the project subjects into open, unstructured problem assignments. Study associations act as the main ambassadors and advertise the project to recruit interested students. The deadline is 1 September 2018 when the students will embark on the project.

The “fair” at the kick-off where the prospective student participants could meet the industrial partners to discuss the project subject (private photo)

Intended Learning Outcomes

The intended learning objectives focus on cognitive abilities that attribute to:

  1. interdisciplinary learning; it is about engaging in perspective taking, integrating knowledge and modes of thinking drawn from two or more disciplines, producing interdisciplinary understanding of complex problem questions.
  2. Scientific and intellectual development; it concerns the analysis of scientific and societal impact of the innovation;
  3. Research and design capabilities, which are about the demonstration of technical skills, creativity and value adding to business or society;
  4. Collaboration and communication in interdisciplinary teams; they are about mindset, ways of thinking, behavioural competences and skills, communication and collaboration skills in an intercultural environment of different disciplines, reporting and presentations skills; also the adaptive capacity to different cultures and disciplines is addressed.
  5. Self-adjustment and reflection capabilities; they are about efficient planning and control of resources and methodology, and about reflection capabilities on personal behaviour and performance; understanding contemporary and societal impact of their work.

Innovative projects

All JIP projects will be innovative interdisciplinary deep integrative design or research projects, and orientated towards  value creation for society.

“The real world itself is the most effective teacher”

Each  project will be characterised as follows:

  • Enables the collaboration between students, industrial experts and academics
  • Purpose and societal relevance
  • Innovative
  • Advancing knowledge
  • ‘Out of the box’ business development ‘in the niche’
  • Possibly disruptive
  • Addressing engineering and technology,
  • Business case
  • Interdisciplinary mindset, i.e. no summation of separate disciplines
  • Actionable outcome

The Joint Interdisciplinary Project candidates

In the 2018 pilot most projects will be related, but not limited to, the theme of energy, water and maritime. In later years we aim for a broader spectrum of themes so that students from any discipline will find compatible subjects that match their needs and interests.

So far eight engineering companies have shown serious interest:

  • Feadship Royal Dutch Shipyards / De Voogt Naval Architects, recognised as the world leader in the field of pure custom superyachts;
  • Huisman Equipment, a worldwide operating company with extensive experience in the design and manufacturing of heavy construction equipment;
  • Rolloos Oil & Gas, designing solutions for a more efficient and safe heavy industry (crane safety, cybersecurity, connectivity, data analytics, CCTV systems)
  • Jack-up Barge, developing self-elevating offshore platforms;
  • Allseas, one of the major offshore pipelay and subsea construction companies in the world, operating six specialised vessels that were designed in-house;
  • Royal HaskoningDHV, an independent, international, engineering, design and project management consultancy in aviation, buildings, infrastructure, rural and urban development, and more;
  • Damen Shipyards, developoing high quality, innovative yachting concepts;
  • ISIS, Innovative Solutions In Space, one of the world’s leading companies in the field of small satellites.

The projects range from analysing, designing, developing, simulating or researching scalable solutions to provide power to anchored super yachts, coastal defense of the Netherlands for the future, geothermal energy for two million households, machine learning based on Internet of Things for a dynamically moving fleet, exchange of wind turbine blades, gearboxes or generators offshore in the fastest way possible, numerical simulation of plastic transport and accumulation in rivers, detection systems for plastic and detect accumulation in rivers, to last but not least a suite of miniature space instruments that can be accommodated on really small satellites, based around a common architecture, each optimised for the detection of one specific trace gas in the atmosphere.

Further information

Detailed information about the projects, the assignments and registration procedure for the students are available here. The deadline for application is June 10th 2018.

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Six driving forces that will fuel change in TU Delft education 2018-2024

What kind of university TU Delft strives to be? What changes does TU Delft foresee in its engineering education for the next six years? In January 2018 TU Delft published its updated TU Delft Vision on Education 2018-2024 and Strategic Framework 2018-2024. I have deboned the texts to its essentials, read between the lines, “read the air”, and compare my understanding and interpretation with my “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World” (the symbol ∇ in this post refers to it).

In my previous postWill these conspicuous statements in TU Delft’s Vision on Education 2018-2024 fuel any change?” , I discussed the vision statements about study culture, durable skills development, outside-in mentality, innovation and employability. I doubt that these will fuel constructive change in Delft’s education. In this post however I address six forces that will fuel change, but only if they get the support and enforcement from higher management.

Online Education and Open Educational Resources

Open Education Global Conference 2018 (Source: TU Delft)

TU Delft has developed as a forerunner in Open and Online Learning. Over the past six years the lobby at TU Delft to invest time and money in the development of open and online education has been intense and phenomenally successful. The vision documents indicate it will remain strong and probably be intensified. It bears the risk of more robbing of innovation initiatives of on-campus education.

Although it is not stated in the vision documents as such, I sense that something big is going on. I imagine that the university will use the coming period to prepare for a major transformation of its education. Where Bachelor education may transform in student-centred education through a blend of personalised online learning and on-campus experiential learning. Where online Master degree programmes may transform into a delivery for students off campus, anywhere in the world, in addition to the traditional research Master programmes on campus. And where professional education for lifelong learners may grow into hybrid formats of online learning with bursts of experiential learning in special boot camps.

TU Delft strives to publish all course materials under an open license that allows the reuse of courses and course materials for non‐commercial ends. The Open Education Consortium has given the Open Education Award 2018 to TU Delft’s Strategic Framework 2018-2024 for its leading open policy. The university considers open education as its contribution to how educational institutions deliver their public mission.

Teaching staff is increasingly stimulated to develop more online courses and publish all materials under an open license. Indeed there are many benefits and opportunities in sharing educational materials on institutional level. In this area I may be conservative. I miss any incentive for the individual lecturers to make their unique and outstanding educational materials, including intellectual property, freely available to anybody in the world, while taking the risk of falling victim to charlatans who take advantage of the unique content in a new market.

I do see another potential benefit of Open Educational Resources though: fewer commercial study books for the students and fewer costly off-the-shelf eLearning tools and software suites. It is going to reduce the dependence on the commercial publishers.

Interdisciplinary thinking

In the engineering profession, mono-disciplinary expert thinking will shift to more multi- and interdisciplinary systems thinking. Collaboration and multi- and inter-disciplinary thinking that cross the borders of engineering become increasingly important in research, innovation and design of solutions for complex societal and technological problems.

The new vision reads that one of the driving forces for change at TU Delft will be a shift from mostly individual and mono-disciplinary to more multi- and interdisciplinary teamwork in education. “We will train students to apply and integrate knowledge and skills in interdisciplinary tasks and cooperate with students from different disciplines and backgrounds in order to solve multidisciplinary tasks”. “All Bachelor and Master graduates shall have a good mastery design skills and have learnt to collaborate in interdisciplinary and intercultural teams”. The vision announces that the university will create new opportunities for new multi- and interdisciplinary Master degree programmes.

In a previous post I wondered if traditional universities, like TU Delft, structured in monodisciplinary silo’d faculties and departments, will be able to successfully transform within ten years, and deliver interdisciplinary education, without being highly interdisciplinary themselves. It will require a major mind shift and upskilling of staff, higher management and programme bodies.

Challenge-based education

In line with the shift to more multi- and interdisciplinary teamwork, the Vision on Education also gives a direction for “challenge-based education”. The inspiration and engagement of the highly successful student-led but extracurricular “DreamTeams” will be copied into the curricula. Students will be inspired to collaborate in interdisciplinary team projects, jointly with other engineering and non-engineering disciplines (e.g. with the partner universities in Rotterdam and Leiden), and apply and transfer their scientific and engineering knowledge to the infinite contexts of real life. Connective spines of design or research projects in curricula will bring together students and staff from diverse disciplines, hopefully also non-academic stakeholders of engineering business and NGO’s. They will stimulate community building and move towards more outward-facing curricula.

Mindsets in curricula will shift from “Learning knowledge-as-a-thing” to “Learning knowledge-for-purposeful-application”

In case the university succeeds in implementing collaborative interdisciplinary projects and challenge-based education at scale to large student cohorts within the Bachelor and Master curricula, many of the vision statements I wrote in my report pp. 46-51 will be brought to life. Curricula will then transform from subject-based learning into needs-related (problem- and more practice-based) learning. Curricular mindsets will shift from learning “knowledge-as-a-thing” to learning “knowledge-for-purposeful-application”.

Digital skills

“Globalisation and digitalisation” is one of the driving forces in the VUCA world (∇ p. 11-13). Machine learning enables systems to learn from data without being explicitly programmed and get smarter  through the exposure to more data. It means that intelligent systems will be able to discover patterns not easily seen, and improve at predicting future results. There can be no doubt that any engineer shall be data literate, i.e. have a good working knowledge of and skills in algorithmic thinking and programming, statistics, predictive analytics, domain knowledge about smart manufacturing, sensors, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, data visualisation techniques, cybersecurity, etcetera, in order to operate successfully in an increasingly “data–rich” engineering environment (∇ p. 29).

But data literacy is only part of the game. Also technological literacy will get new accents. It will be crucial for every engineer, no matter the discipline, to gain a grounding in computer languages and the basics of computer sciences. The inclusion of these Industry 4.0 related skills will be a driving force for educational change in all Bachelor and Master degree programmes at TU Delft.

Personalised learning paths

My vision ∇ p.45 reads “Student engagement that is currently achieved by following standard curricula, will soon change into more personalised learning, with individual learning plans that ask for high degrees of flexibility.”

Many of today’s Bachelor and Master curricula have rigid structures and leave little freedom of choice for the student. Master programmes train students to become an expert in technical analysis through individual intellectual efforts in ever smaller corners of their discipline. It leads to a lack in holistic thinking and relationship skills and unintentionally prevents talented students from reaching their leadership potential.

A major driving force for change in TU Delft’s vision will be the creation of learner-led choices, opportunities for students to personalise their graduation profile and pursue their own ambition and interests. The professional roles developed by the “Free Spirits Think Tank” (4TU.Centre for Engineering Education activity in 2015) may for instance be used to guide the choice of personalised study paths. These are particularly orientated towards future professional needs.  More conservative programmes may provide study paths that prepare for the role of research engineer, technical engineer or entrepreneurial engineer, or for roles that distinguish themselves by their achievement, i.e. Best product (performance quality), Best cost (operational process), or Best value (customer intimacy). More progressive programmes might explore study paths that match with different types of engineering behaviour in future society, without being connected to specific products or activities (currently being explored by the Delft team of 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education).

Academic careers with an accent on education

It is a bit of a shortcoming that TU Delft’s vision hardly addresses the perspective of the teaching staff. If we want to achieve change, staff will have to change first. I often hear “How do they want us teachers to be?”

Indeed, lifelong learning also applies to teaching staff. They have to routinely update their pedagogy and develop new learning environments based on proven practices. My vision reads on ∇ p.52 “Strengthening the didactic professionalism of and trust in teaching staff has to become the norm.” But reality is obstinate. Educational achievements have been highly undervalued in Delft career promotions since many decades.

In the new vision TU Delft presents the aim to flip the existing culture of promotion on the basis of academic excellence (read research). In the 2018-2024 period the aim is to create a culture and structure in which teaching excellence and leadership in education will be weighed on par with research excellence, and where career paths will be developed for academic staff who have an accent on education. I wholeheartedly support this initiative (see my post about university career frameworks) and hope it will spark a renewed interest for innovating and experimenting in on-campus education.

This could be a driving force for change with high impact. How long will it take to flip the existing academic culture which is loosely coupled and grown in a bottom-up culture with great autonomy and freedom? It will require an enormous perseverance over the next 10 to 15 years.

An active and engaged change-maker

TU Delft faces interesting challenges to remain an active and engaged change-maker in the landscape of 21st century higher engineering education. The university has always strongly focused on equipping students with deep discipline-based knowledge and left the development of the durable and wider professional skills to the early years of the professional career. And that won’t change. But future engineer business increasingly needs talents that combine deep disciplinary expertise with social, political, and economic capabilities, who are able to connect the dots, think holistically, and are culturally agile.

The most important force that will drive educational change in 2018-2024 will be interdisciplinary thinking, also contained in challenge-based education. The Delft vision leaves it vague if only disciplines of engineering sciences and technology will be combined, or that wider social, political and economic aspects will also be taken into account. Such perspective would connect engineering education to the real-world and transfer knowledge to real-life context. A shift to more interdisciplinary teaching and learning can only be successful with open-minded staff who are open to upskilling and prepared to build interfaculty collaborations or cross-university networks in the domain of engineering education rather than research in technical disciplines.

This force of interdisciplinary thinking could very well converge with a couple of other forces for change, such as the inclusion of knowledge and skills that prepare for Industry 4.0, the integration of durable skills, the inclusion of societal and business context, the accommodation of personalised learning paths, and last but not least the increasing engagement with industrial needs and societal challenges. For many teaching staff such radical ideas will require a step change towards cross-faculty cooperation and acceptance of top-down institution-wide change. Leadership by higher management, ambition by programme bodies and flexibility by Boards of Examiners are the prime enablers for such changes.

The developments in online education and open educational resources will for sure have impact on the evolution of the on-campus education. In 10 to 15 years time it is probably way too expensive and time consuming for young students to learn basic content that can also be picked up online through personal learning. Although it’s not explicitly written in the vision documents, I imagine that TU Delft will use the coming period for the preparation of a massive transformation of its education in 2024-2030. Thus TU Delft will prove it earns the reputation of an active and engaged change-maker in the emerging landscape of 21st century engineering education, also in the next decade.


This post and my previous post “Will these conspicuous statements in TU Delft’s Vision on Education 2018-2024 fuel any change?” give you the full picture of my critical review of TU Delft’s Vision on education 2018-2024.

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Will these conspicuous statements in TU Delft’s Vision on Education 2018-2024 fuel any change?

Many factors call universities to make choices on how to adapt their education: the accelerating pace of technological change, the globalisation, the accelerating digitalisation of economy and social interaction, the growth in talent mobility, the student’s interest to go well beyond perceived boundaries of traditional engineering roles, the blurring of boundaries between technical disciplines, the break-through of all kinds of digitally enhanced teaching and learning.

What kind of university TU Delft strives to be? How will TU Delft give its students ownership of their own future? What fundamental changes does TU Delft foresee in its engineering education for the next six years?

Vision on Education 2018-2024

In January 2018 TU Delft published its updated TU Delft Vision on Education as an integral part of the Strategic Framework 2018-2024. The documents are pretty abstract and it’s not a simple task to debone the texts to its essentials. I have therefore also tried to read between the lines and “read the air”.

This and my next post compare my vision statements in “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World” (I use ∇ to refer to it) with my understanding and interpretation of the TU Delft documents. In this first post I highlight statements that, according to my expectations, will not have much constructive impact on the education, although they are conspicuous. In my second post “Six driving forces that will fuel change in TU Delft education 2018-2024I focus on driving forces that, I am pretty sure, will fuel change to the education.

Not so much has changed

Updated strategies and visions build upon existing values and culture. A first reading of the new Vision on Education 2018-2024 gave me an impression “not so much has changed, we are proud of it“. Every page in the Vision and Strategy Framework is peppered with the clichés “world-class”, “excellence”, “top-level” and many lines describe the way how we do things.

The main characteristics of the Delft academic study environment are its egalitarian culture, the rigour of disciplinary knowledge and scientific foundations of engineering, their practical application, the design-centred learning, the self-starting and can-do culture with hands‐on mentality, the leadership in getting things done, the rich pallet of extracurricular activities for the students, the unconditional nexus between education and research, and the highly valued academic freedom for staff and students.

Ambitious students

“Engineering education has to be engaging, compelling and motivating, and create a learning community that stimulates all students to discover their talents” is what I wrote on ∇ p.46. In their vision TU Delft aims to educate students who have the ambition to make the most of their study period and develop themselves academically as well as personally. The vision emphasises “stimulating and supporting ambitious and enterprising students”. No longer does it focus on training students with an excellent academic performance alone.

Although this sounds as an interesting shift,it has the risk to deteriorate in a rat-race study culture for students who strive for the best career perspectives, taking on too much. A couple of days ago the “Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg”, a national umbrella organization for university student councils from different cities in the Netherlands, expressed their concern about the rise of more ambitious study cultures in the Netherlands. They are worried about the higher stress factors during the study, a steep rise of burn-outs for students and the expectation that academic studies will increasingly educate zombies rather than critical well-educated citizens.

Durable skills development in extracurricular activities

On p. 22 my vision reads “academic engineering education does a poor job of helping engineering students think about their own lives, their career goals, their desire for intimacy, or their plans for a productive and meaningful life”.

Unfortunately TU Delft seems to be in line with the above. The vision documents read as if the the societal engagement and development of durable skills are left up to the student and are mainly placed outside the engineering curricula. Students have to take control of their own development and learning process. For sure this has a positive effect on the student’s entrepreneurial attitude, but it sounds as an omission.

Let’s call it human literacy. It is one of the most important skills in engineering, and will be  even more so in the emerging age of robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Every university should equip its students for the social milieu. It seems a poor job when a university more or less enforces its students to participate in extracurricular activities (social, sport or cultural activities in the city, student clubs, student project teams) for self-development, in order to acquire the most essential and durable skills they will need in the future profession to survive and thrive.

Low outside-in mentality

Engineering has always been a practice-based profession (∇ p. 48). The professional workplace is the environment in which the impact of technological change is felt most strongly. Universities should therefore address those strategies employers are seeking to accomplish and ways technology changes the shape of the industries. Students have to experience the real world of engineering and get a taste of genuine research, engineering and design by learning-by-doing, meet their academic role models from universities and practitioners from industry. That requires a strong and enduring partnership between industry and academic staff to ensure that curricula are not only aligned with the latest developments in research and science, but also in engineering practice.

The TU Delft Vision on Education or the chapter Students and Education of the Strategic Framework address the relations with industry or the enhancement of employability skills in engineering education to a minimum. May be they are already sufficient? Particularly in lifelong learning models of the future, I expect that universities will have to co-design curricula and courses in close parnership with employers and students. This will demand (much) stronger ties with engineering business than exist nowadays.

It is also common practice that the templates for recruiting academic staff are getting narrower and narrower (see post about future trends and developments in Europe). Taking this all together, I cannot help expecting that the current scarce opportunities for people with a non-academic background to bring their experience, tacit knowledge, role models and achievements in engineering practice to the classroom, will diminish even further in the coming years. Which is the opposite of what I expect students need to integrate the real-world experienes with academic learning, and prepare for their future profession and employability.

Are we missing something?

My vision is a loud call to make subjects like globalisation, diversity, world cultures, cultural agility, global ethics, leadership, business acumen, empathy and emotional intelligence equally important as maths and engineering sciences. Indeed, the TU Delft vision documents expect that the students will master these competences at graduation. But where will they learn them? The vision documents do not mention any driving force that would give these skills a more prominent place in the curricula.

What about Innovation and Employability?

In my vision (∇ pp. 59-63) the three cornerstones for future engineering programmes are Innovation, Employability and Community. The first two are anchor points for future curricular structures and subject matter.

Many accreditation standards baseline  innovation as the leading theme in Master programmes. The habitat of almost all engineering graduates is in innovation, where understanding the customer and truly care about their experience is essential. It strikes me that most Delft Masters fully focus on the acquisition of deep discipline-based knowledge and research, They forget about innovation. At best, creativity, entrepreneurial and customer thinking, enterprise systems engineering, etcetera are in the margin of the Master curricula, but often absent at all and available in extracurricular activities. The university does not indicate a tailoring of its education to these changing needs of today’s workforce.

The same applies to employability. Young graduates who have never been in contact with industry, are insufficiently prepared for the world of work. The vision documents miss supportive statements about employability skills for education and students. It does not necessarily mean they are not part of faculty policies. But the narrative tells that employability, like innovation, will not become a driving force for educational change in Delft in the coming six years. This could turn into a risk when employers become dissatisfied with the work-readiness of the graduates and favour graduates from more interdisciplinary, practice-based approaches with stacked learning models. It is something in which other universities may be moving ahead of TU Delft.

What about Community?

Community is the third cornerstone for tomorrow’s programmes (∇ p.61). The TU Delft vision documents address the importance of creating a sense of belonging on the campus for staff and students. They aim to create an inclusive atmosphere and ensure the integration of Dutch and foreign students, while maintaining the unique Delft’s identity and cherishing the roots in the Dutch cultural and scientific heritage.

The university is going to  develop a new vision for its campus “UniverCity Delft”, taking into account that knowledge is increasingly available online, student communities mainly connect through social media, and the academic community is individualistic and loosely coupled in silo’d faculties and departments. The modern campus has to offer added value in attractive learning spaces that evoke the teaching staff to implement effective ways of teaching and coaching, and support students in their collaborative and applied learning process, by enabling a transfer of knowledge to the contexts of real life.

I expect the nature of our education, with applied learning and hands-on work in makerspaces and research labs, will remain a leading element on the future campus. Whether or not the new campus vision will develop into a driving force for educational change, very much depends on its content that is still to be defined.

Epilogue

The vision documents are high level guidelines about what kind of university TU Delft strives to be and what and how they foresee the preparation of the graduates for fast-changing professional careers in engineering. Since decades the university has focused on equipping students with deep discipline-based knowledge and left the development of the wider professional skills and the preparation for good employability to the early years of their professional career. The narrative in Delft’s vision documents clearly shows this will not change in the next six years.

It remains to be seen whether that is the right choice for preparing graduates for a future, where artificial intelligence will increasingly take over routine and non-routine cognitive tasks from the engineering professionals. I foresee a need to educate our students to think and act in ways that cannot be imitated by intelligent machines, and to prepare them to do what machines cannot. We have to liberate the students from career models that will soon be outdated. And have to complement our traditional education that focuses on the mastery of deep technological knowledge and understanding of what technology can do, with more experiential learning to understand what technology cannot do.

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Only a consolidated body of knowledge enables professionals to connect the dots

Post written by Birgit Pepin, 4TU.CEE leader of TU Eindhoven

“To navigate through such uncertainty, students will need to develop curiosity, imagination, resilience and self-regulation; they will need to respect and appreciate the ideas, perspectives and values of others; and they will need to cope with failure and rejection, and to move forward in the face of adversity. Their motivation will be more than getting a good job and a high income; they will also need to care about the well-being of their friends and families, their communities and the planet.”

Position paper OECD and engineering education

If you think that the above quote comes from our recent university documents, you are mistaken. It is from the OECD document “The future of education and skills- education 2030- the future we want” – a position paper by the OECD (based on first investigations of their project). If you think that this paper relates to higher education, you are mistaken – it is meant for education from pre-school to higher education!

In this blog I summarize the document (which I recently read) by highlighting some of the thoughts that I found most valuable for us in engineering education, and with the view to the “engineer of the future” and engineering education 2030.

In the foreword the director of the ‘The Future of Education and Skills 2030’ project, Andreas Schleicher, outlines the underpinning questions of the project:

  • What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will today’s students need to thrive and shape their world?
  • How can instructional systems develop these knowledge, skills, attitudes and values effectively?

How to deal with future challenges

The background to the project is that, so he claims, we are facing “unprecedented challenges” -social, economic and environmental – and problems and uncertainties that we cannot anticipate, “it will be a shared responsibility to seize opportunities and find solutions”. He predicts that in order to “navigate through such uncertainty, students will need to develop curiosity, imagination, resilience and self- regulation. They will need to respect and appreciate the ideas, perspectives and values of others. And they will need to cope with failure and rejection, and to move forward in the face of adversity.

Moreover, he is certain that their motivation (for education) will be “more than getting a good job and a high income”, but they will also need to think about, and care for “the well-being of their friends and families, their communities and the planet”. In order to reach these aims, he states, “education can equip learners with agency and a sense of purpose, and the competencies they need, to shape their own lives and contribute to the lives of others”. In short, and translating these aims to engineering education, we (as engineering educators) have to help our students to become “active, responsible, and engaged citizens” as engineers.

Learner agency and co-agency

Attending in more detail to his vision, key features are (1) “learner agency”, and (2) “co-agency”. With reference to (2) he explains “co-agency” as “the interactive, mutually supportive relationships that help learners to progress towards their valued goals”. In such a context there are no instructors on the one hand, and learners on the other, but everyone should be considered a learner: students, teachers, school managers, parents and communities. Concerning (1) learner agency, in his opinion there are two factors in particular that help learners enable agency: (a) a “personalised learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions, make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities, and design their own learning projects and processes in collaboration with others”; and (b) a solid knowledge foundation where “literacy and numeracy remain crucial”. In terms of literacies he emphasizes that “digital literacy” and “data literacy” are becoming increasingly essential.

Innovation through co-operation and collaboration

What caught my attention most were his elaborations on knowledge and competence development. He predicts that “disciplinary knowledge will continue to be important. It is the raw material from which new knowledge is developed, together with the capacity to think across the boundaries of disciplines and “connect the dots”.

Interestingly, he divides knowledge into:

  1. epistemic knowledge (knowledge about the disciplines), e.g. knowing how to think like a mathematician, historian or scientist. It enables students to extend their disciplinary knowledge and is conditional for lifelong learning;
  2. procedural knowledge, which he assumes can be acquired through “practical problem-solving, such as through design thinking and systems thinking”.

Of course, students will be expected to apply their knowledge in “unknown and evolving circumstances”, for which “they will need a broad range of skills, including cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (e.g. critical thinking, creative thinking, learning to learn and self-regulation); social and emotional skills (e.g. empathy, self-efficacy and collaboration); and practical and physical skills (e.g. using new information and communication technology devices)”. In terms of innovation, he presumes that “innovation springs not from individuals thinking and working alone, but through co-operation and collaboration with others to draw on existing knowledge to create new knowledge. The constructs that underpin the competency include adaptability, creativity, curiosity and open-mindedness”.

Systems thinking

He sums up that in order to be prepared for the future, “individuals have to learn to think and act in a more holistic way, taking into account the interconnections and interrelations between contradictory or incompatible ideas, logic and positions, from both short- and long-term perspectives. In other words, they have to learn to be systems thinkers”.

This speaks to all of us in STEM education, definitely to me (as a mathematics educator), as I have always thought of ‘developing an understanding of a concept’ means ‘making connections’ (or as he put it earlier “connecting the dots”). And it is through the richness (or paucity) of connections that we can evaluate whether we have deeply understood, or developed a surface understanding of the concept. Which kinds of connections to make, which ones are likely to be most helpful, and how to support the making or scaffolding of connections, is surely the task of the teacher. ‘Making connections’ (as a teacher) also includes connecting to our students, their thinking, their experiences, and their interests, to name but a few.

Making dreams come true

Coming back to the initial quote, this outline is for the whole of education, and it emphasizes a broad personal development, which in addition to connected knowledge are also ideals in our engineering education. At the same time we know how difficult this is to make dreams come true, also in education. If we want to make a contribution in higher education, do we subscribe to these ideals, and how can we (start to) operationalise them?


This post has been written by my colleague Birgit Pepin, 4TU.CEE leader of TU Eindhoven, and was published on the weblog of 4TU.CEE (4tucee.weblog.tudelft.nl) March 20th, 2018.

The post and the OECD report are very much in line with my thinking about the necessary changes in engineering education, as you can read in the posts of my blog and my book.

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Teaching technology innovation and Reframing academic careers with an educational accent

My one but previous post was about the confluence of talent development, discovery and innovation at Skoltech, using the CDIO framework. At that same gathering the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education took the opportunity to run workshops about topics that really matter: developing a career framework for academics who have an accent on education, and training students about the innovation of products when the technology that is needed has not yet reached the threshold of readiness for industrial application. Last but not least I delivered the  workshop “Who does the CDIO Community want to be in 2030”. A video recorded impression of this workshop is available here.

Engineering knowledge innovation

Frido Smulders of TU Delft provoked the attendees by stating that almost all  engineering curricula focus on design, engineering and research, while it is innovation that is on the highest agendas in engineering business. In education we forget to pay attention to what technological innovation is and how that unfolds over time in real-life engineering projects. It’s a serious deficiency, because almost all engineering graduates find their natural habitat in innovation. The reason for this deficiency, he said, is that no complete body of knowledge exists that is grounded on research of technological innovation practice.

Frido Smulders, puzzling the audience how to teach the rapidly increasing amount of theoretical and experiential knowledge (private photo)

Single-loop and double-loop innovation

Students learn to develop new products, processes and systems using “old” validated technological knowledge. Or they generate new knowledge or transform fundamental knowledge into applied knowledge by doing research. Smulders terms that as “single-loop” innovation. But students donot learn how to develop technology that has not yet reached the required level of maturity but is needed to develop and build an innovative product or process. In that sense, the CDIO framework, he said, is not equipped for this smaller class of so-called “double-loop” innovations. He illustrated the deficiency with the first planes that used composite materials. These were designed by aeronautical engineers who still “thought in metals” and applied their old knowledge and practical experience to the use of carbon materials. It led to the ”black aluminium” parts that were adequate and safe but far from optimal.

Teaching technology innovation?

Engineers are responsible for designing innovative products, and also developing new technological knowledge. So where do we teach it? How do we find a balance between the growing amounts of scientific theories and engineering practice? Should not this also be contained in the CDIO framework?  How should we teach the students to learn about the process of technology innovation?

Smulders brought the idea forward to bring examples of technology innovations into the classroom that have gone through many iterative cycles of trial and error in science and engineering practice, with the involvement of both engineering and social disciplines. His message was to complement engineering classes and design and research projects with an explicit mindset of continuous discovery, of success, failure and iteration. With a narrative of technological innovation that spans the full range of what happened, yet is generic enough to transfer to technological innovation processes in general. Paying explicit attention to what engineers experienced, assumed, predicted, tested, bread-boarded, forgot or overlooked, and how they combatted the frustration, hesitation and resistance to change on the shop floor. Such storylines would enable the students to develop planning scenarios for the development of new engineering knowledge that is urgently needed for modeling, simulating, analysing or manufacturing new products and systems that are already on the drawing table or are being engineered. Where anticipating risk and conscious risk taking is extremely important. His slides were food for thought for many, see also the video-recording.

Asked why the CDIO-way of thinking is so important for the future of engineering education, Smulders said: “These days, there’s so much more knowledge about engineering available in the scientific domain as well as in the domain of practice. At this point, we tend to teach as much as we know, but with the passage of time, we have come to know too much to teach, so basically we have to revert to another system that helps students to learn the basics, but also learn how to specialise later on in their career, and embark on a road of lifelong learning.”

University career frameworks

Jan van der Veen (University Twente) and Birgit Pepin (TU Eindhoven), both affiliated with the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education, ran a workshop together with Clement Fortin (Skoltech) on university career frameworks that balance teaching performance and research achievement. A video recording of the session is available here. The framework is related to the progress of an international working group of 12 universities from all over the world, coordinated by the Royal Academy of Engineering project and chaired by Ruth Graham (see website).

In many universities management and staff wish to restore the balance between education and research in appraisal cycles and career paths, but few see how this can be achieved. The main problem is, Van der Veen said in his introduction, that most people who have to evaluate or approve professorships in education, are experts in disciplinary research themselves, don’t understand or appreciate education as such to the same level, and thus operate in a slow-death mode.

Van der Veen showed University Twente’s ambitions. They aim at two professorships per Faculty with an emphasis on education. These have to be a national and international leader in teaching and learning (Level 4 of Ruth Graham’s Career Framework for University Teaching). The educational research they are doing has to be at associate professor level. Each Faculty shall also have leaders in teaching and learning, as well as scholarly teachers with senior university teaching qualification (Level 3). Thus innovation and research in teaching will really count in the promotion to Associate or Full Professorship. Also in the Tenure Track training programme more emphasis will be put on teaching performance. See also the UToday post1 and post2 (in Dutch).

Pepin of TU Eindhoven explained their system of Advanced University Teaching Innovation Qualification (AUTIQ), where achievements in educational innovation and research projects provide incentives for university teachers and count in career promotions. Their emphasis is to stimulate continuous innovation in education and publish the results to the outside world.

Fortin of Skoltech showed the documents where the change in career path development had been approved in 2017. The implementation in the academic culture is just starting: they are currently going through the first promotion cases. Commitment in teaching and proven involvement in educational innovation are a requirement to achieve tenure. All Assistant Professors have to write an impact statement that describes their personal impact on education and innovation. For a promotion to Associate Professor criteria of refereed publications in educational conferences and journals have to be met, together with validated contributions to educational conferences and initiatives that demonstrate proven leadership and impact on university education at national and international level, which is also the Level 4 of the career framework.

Not all universities are equally enthusiastic about this Career Framework for University Teaching. For instance TU Delft has been reluctant so far to adopt it and has been discussing since 2014 how to invent a career progression framework for university teaching that optimally matches the “unique Delft” academic culture. Meanwhile educational achievements remain highly undervalued in the Delft career promotions and, as a direct consequence, the continual professionalisation for teaching staff has more or less come to a standstill, as already described in a my September post about the disposable fulltime lecturers.

Three out of 4TU.CEE

On the second day of the gathering at Skoltech we welcomed TU Eindhoven as a new member of the CDIO community. After TU Delft (member since 2011) and University Twente (2017), now three out of the four universities of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education are a member. Together with The Hague University of Applied Sciences, the Dutch leave their mark on the network community! Alone together we share outcomes of applied educational research with our international partners and learn from each other’s successes and failures.

In the freezing and snowy Saturday morning most of us took the special guided tour of Moscow (private photo)

Hope and need for courage

The participants of the workshop about the Career Framework for University Teaching expressed their hope that this new career framework will soon become the new normal. Not as a lip service, but as a basis to foster education innovation and educational research. Everybody agreed that research universities will have to make deep change. The universities shall demonstrate courage in changing the rules for awarding incentives and funding dramatically. Only then they will transform the academic culture because also academics go where the money flows and conform to the awarding and funding rules, because these rules are usually based on the vision and a strategy of the institution.

We have to stop debating and have the courage to transform the system. A solid career framework that still leaves a lot of freedom to the university organisation, is at hand!

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No skating fun without an agile mindset and a bit of common sense

Global warming reduces the chance of long lasting cold periods, the Dutch national weather service KNMI says on its website. Weeks of wintertime in the Netherlands have cut down to days, if not hours. Over the past 100 years, the average temperature of the coldest five consecutive days of a year has risen by about +2 degrees! Cold weeks like the one we experienced last week in February, occurred in 1900 twice as much as today. And so, without an agile mindset you easily miss the chance to enjoy wintertime.

Siberian bear

Seldom did freezing weather in the Netherlands start so late in the season. Friday February 23rd the meteorological office forecast Siberian cold air to be blown over the Netherlands. It would almost certainly result in an opportunity to skate on canals and other waterways in less than a week time. Daytime temperatures dropped to -5 and -10 centigrade, nighttime temperatures five degrees lower. The windchill by the strong wind from the east made it feel bitterly cold.

Their forecast was right. Within one week time hundreds of thousands Dutchmen skated on the waterways and lakes, even on the canals in the city centre of Amsterdam and Delft. Just on two days, Friday and Saturday. But on Sunday the thermometer indicated a spring temperature of +11 degrees centigrade, and Monday at sunrise I heard the song of a blackbird in my garden… Recent winters have shortened from weeks to days. There is little time to contemplate on whether you want to take a day off and skate: you have to be agile and immediately rearrange your agenda to create space for some hours of skating fun. There is no time to think twice!

One of the main canals in my village Saturday afternoon March 3, 2018 (private photo)

Skating is in the DNA of the Dutch

For foreigners it is difficult to imagine what influence freezing weather has on many Dutch citizens. It must be deep in our DNA. You may know the historic paintings of the 17th and 18th century that show skaters on frozen waterways on a sunny winter’s day, with snow covered cottages and windmills on the riverbanks, or skaters in winter landscapes with a stand on ice that sells hot chocolate milk, drinks and cakes (“Koek and Zopie”).

Little has changed. Also in today’s hectic world, freezing weather in the Netherlands stimulates fraternity and friendship that emanates from spontaneous initiatives by citizens. In my village all of a sudden villagers organised a local championship of “Curling 0.0”, using biscuit tins filled with gravel as the curling stones, while the local supermarket sponsored the Koek and Zopie stand, and the fire brigade arranged the floodlights on the ditch in the village centre. Out-and-out village entertainment anno 2018!

Good sense

Some things did change though. Where I learnt from my parents to assess the quality and thickness of the ice layer on the basis of the weather and the local conditions such as flows in the water, at present many people seem to have a blind trust in simulation models that predict the ice thickness growth in the waterways, on the basis of air temperature and wind speed and probably a couple of other parameters. But these models cannot reflect local conditions of depth and flows of water and local effects of the wind. Where I used to trust on my intuition and good sense, most people today rely on apps that give alerts for weather conditions, slippery roads, as well as ice safety. We rapidly forget to learn from experience and refrain from trials and experiments and no longer use our human sensors.

Daredevil

I don’t know if it was the bitterly cold wind or the abundance of alerts about unsafe ice conditions that were published on the internet, television news, newspapers and apps. The fact was that Friday morning at ten o’clock nobody had tested the ice floor yet on one of the main three-meter deep canals in our village.

Since I had taken a day off to skate and was ready to go, I had no option but to test the ice floor myself. My wife and daughter remained on the bank, in case that…  I walked and jumped on the 12 meter wide ice floor over 300 meters to test its strength. The ice floor was solid as rock, black, hard and super smooth, probably five to eight centimeter thick, with the exception of one blowhole where ten moorhens were swimming. We picked up our skates from home and skated over a one-kilometer long track back and forth. With the wind behind us we felt energized! But the massive headwind took all energy we had. It did not take long till our skating was noticed and we were accompanied by about 20 villagers.

Skating in Botshol, a 215 ha nature reserve where peat moorlands, reed-land, swamp forest take centre stage (private photo)

“Dimes ice”

Saturday morning we drove with my wife, son and daughter to our favourite skating place, the nature reserve Botshol, 8 km from our home. It is a not so well-known reserve of peat moorlands, reed-lands and swamp-forest and is usually only accessible by rowing boats outside the breeding season, and occasionally in wintertime by skating. It’s a wonderful area.  But this time caution was required when skating. Ice was excellent but contained a number really big blowholes. Following the traces of the other 100 skaters made it easy to find a safe route. Skating over a 1.5 km long loop in the reed-land with birds (we even spotted a rare brightly blue coloured common kingfisher, in Dutch appropriately called IJsvogel – which literally translates in “Ice bird”), while listening to the  sloshing water in the blowholes and the cracking noise of the skates gave us the experience we had hoped for.

Dimes ice (in Dutch “dubbeltjes-ijs”): millions of thin flat bubbles of swamp gas trapped in the ice floor (private photo)

A typical feature you observe while skating in the peat moorlands are the bubbles of swamp gas that are trapped in the ice floor. They are visible as hundreds or thousands of thin discs, small or large that are located at different depths in the ice floor, filled with swamp gas, or oxygen released by water plants. In Dutch we call it “dubbeltjes ijs”, dimes ice, because it looks as if the black ice layer contains thousands and thousands of dimes.

Life is not a race track

We all live in a run run runaway world, programme ourselves into a “Fastnet” of speed, internet and 24/7 social networking, and have created a cult of busy. We are harder workers, shorter sleepers and faster thinkers, and expect the world to offer us what we want, when we want it. But wintertime on-demand is not available and only lasts a couple of days. There is no time to think twice. You have to take the chance when it’s there.

For me skating on canals in the polders and reed-lands is the best and most beautiful activity to slow down and take a moment to myself. When we returned home the GPS tracker app showed Friday and Saturday we had skated a total distance of 60 kilometer. Our minds are refreshed. The skates are waiting for sharpening, to be ready for next time. Ready to go!

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Following the CDIO framework Skoltech develops into a powerhouse for innovation and talent development

Visiting a massive campus building under construction in an extensive technology park which is under development at the same time. Understanding the impact of CDIO thinking on the development of Skoltech. Discussing a career development framework that has an accent on education. Upgrading the CDIO framework to also contain training students about innovating products, processes and systems, when the technology itself has not yet reached the level of maturity for full scale application. And strolling over a Christmas market in Moscow mid-January.  These were the ingredients for a memorable out-of-the-box meeting at Skoltech near Moscow.

Winter in Moscow

Winter and Christmas market on the Red Square (private photo)

Most of us had already been back to work after the Christmas break for at least two weeks,  but the Orthodox Christian community in Russia had just celebrated Christmas ten days before our arrival. It made the meeting special: Christmas trees, an abundance of illumination and decorations in the streets and shopping malls, ice sculptures, a skating rink on the Red Square, very few tourists and a winterly snow-covered city. The CDIO European Region had invited us for an “out-of-the-box” meeting. The venue of the meeting was a temporary Mendeleev building of the Skoltech Institute of Science and Technology. You get an impression of the lively atmosphere and discussions at the meeting in this video on YouTube.  The main campus building is still under construction but was accessible for us in a special guided tour.

Skoltech as a pivot for innovation and economic development

Founding president of Skolkovo, MIT professor Ed Crawley addressed in his keynote the lessons learnt from “the human drama to develop and build a Russian innovation and research focused technical university from scratch.” He headed the institute from its founding in 2011 till February 2016. Of course it had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the freedom to align the development of the educational programmes with the design and construction of the building and learning spaces, and recruit and shape the academic staff, right from the start. With clear expectations from the stakeholders to achieve economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship, exchange knowledge, and be a catalyst for education, research and innovation by positioning the university as the pivot in an ecosystem of industries, start-ups and institutes that are developed in parallel. The tour to the new campus showed us what he meant. The Skolkovo Technopark is the biggest technology park of Russia. During our visit the many construction cranes showed it is being developed, with the new university building as the main pivot.

Crawley explained how he had used CDIO as the leading framework not only for the curricula, but also for the physical building and the whole set-up of the Skoltech institute, where talent development (education), discovery (research) and creation (innovation) are integrated in one comprehensive programme. Interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration, entrepreneurial education and developing prototypes for proof of concepts are the main enablers for integrated learning. Where students, researchers and collaborators of  the industrial site meet, exchange ideas and knowledge and cooperate in fablabs or makerspaces and the many informal social spaces, all within one and the same campus building.

Learning-by-doing has been made a key asset in the Master programmes, and learning-by-teaching in the PhD studies. PhD students deliver many student-led courses for Master students. At present Skoltech has slightly more than 100 faculty staff, 700 Master students of which 32% are female and 16% non-Russian.

The changing face of Russian higher education

In the second keynote Irina Arzhanova of the National Training Foundation discussed the impact of demographic change on Russian higher education. I don’t remember the many graphs and tables but recall the drop between 2006 and 2016 from more than 500 to 300 students per 10,000 citizens, and the drop in number of public universities from 660 to 500. She addressed the reforms in Russian higher education with respect to quality assurance and accreditation, staff professionalisation and student mobility, merely following European standards and legislation. Internationalisation is increasing, where a minimum of 1% foreign students is the minimum level, while currently almost 7% of the students in higher education is non-Russian.

Skolkovo Innovation Center tour

Skoltech Vice President for Real Estate and Facilities, Gary Wentworth, took the attendees on a tour of the massive campus, which is set to open later this year. The circumference of the annular building is 880 meters. Within the ring-shaped building there will be several well equipped laboratories, an auditorium, classrooms, maker- and lab spaces for research and education that are interconnected by broad interlocking rings and outdoor yards where people meet and collaborate. Nearly 60% of the 136,000 square-meter space will be devoted to research functions. Twelve hundred construction workers are on the site to complete the building.

Construction works at the main campus building of Skoltech (private photo)

The tour inspired the attendees. “For me, a highlight of this gathering was the discussion about engineering workspaces and the design of Skoltech’s new campus building,” said the University of Calgary’s Ron Hugo. “I enjoyed hearing the thought process people went through in designing their new work spaces, and being able to go see the new campus. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear about the architectural team’s projects and then see the nearly final product,” he added. Chalmers’ Malmqvist echoed the sentiment. “It’s been great to be at Skoltech and great to see the soon finished building, which we’ve been hearing about for quite a while,” he said. Also I chimed in: “The most impressive thing about the university was the construction work of the new university. I would really like to come back here when everything is operational and see how the integrated concept of education, research and innovation has worked out” I said.

CDIO: a paradigm shift in engineering education

In the conference coffee breaks Ingrid Burke of Skoltech interviewed the speakers and other attendees to reflect on the value of the CDIO framework and community. The full article with interviews is available at the Skoltech website.

It all began in 1999 when industry giants like Boeing and the American Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology rallied in favour of engineering educational reform. “In an era of unprecedented technological advancement, engineering practice continues to evolve but engineering education has not changed appreciably since the 1950s. This schism has prompted industry, government, and other key constituents to question the relevancy and efficacy of current programmes,” began a 1999 paper written by representatives of aerospace giants Boeing and TRW, Inc.

It was about this time that Crawley entered the scene. “CDIO started as a programme for four universities. There was never any intention at the beginning to go beyond those four schools,” Crawley said, referring to MIT as well as Swedish institutions Chalmers University of Technology, Linköping University and the Royal Institute of Technology. But word of the initiative spread, attracting the attention of universities far and wide. It was this unexpectedly widespread interest that inspired the founding members of CDIO to establish the list of 12 educational Standards that define the initiative today”. In his keynote he said he would like to rephrase the Standards into “Effective Practices”. The standards strive to define the philosophy of the CDIO programme, and to help educators implement educational reform. They fall into five categories:

  • philosophy
  • curriculum
  • design-implement experiences and workspaces
  • teaching and learning
  • assessment and evaluation

Malmqvist does not believe that any of the principles is particularly superior. Rather, he believes it is imperative to implement them as a set in its entirety. “It’s the set that is important. When we have worked with a set of standards, we have gotten a systematic approach to designing our programmes, and that takes into consideration many things. So in many cases it’s really working with the whole set, which is the key point. All of them are important in their own right, but they’re even stronger as a combined set,” he said.

Asked why the 12 Standards seem to be so broadly embraced by geographically diverse engineering schools, Crawley explained: “I think they’re just a codification of what’s more or less generally acknowledged as good practice. The hard thing is not to get people agree that the CDIO principles are good principles; the hard thing is to convince people to go to work in the morning and do it.” In that interview I added in a similar vein, “CDIO is really not a theoretical network; it’s a network of common sense. If you’re really thinking about what education should be, you end up with a CDIO-type of framework.” Notably, I myself at TU Delft discovered CDIO after having reconstructed my Bachelor programme in Aerospace Engineering that perfectly mirrored the initiative’s guiding philosophy.

The Standard “Integrated learning experiences” champions the integration of disciplinary and practical knowledge along with personal and interpersonal skills. Personally I consider this both the most important and the most challenging of the CDIO Standards to implement. “All of the experts are discipline-based, and each of them believes that their discipline is the most important thing in the universe. If you tell them they have to enrich that with creativity, ethical, systems thinking or other interdisciplinary skills, they find it extremely difficult because they themselves are not equipped for that”.


With the permission of Skoltech, I have copied some sections from the article “Skoltech hosts CDIO meeting aimed at revolutionizing engineering education” by Skoltech correspondent and editor Ingrid Burke. The full article with CDIO interviews is available on the Skoltech website.

My next blog post will discuss the contributions of 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education  at the conference, about a career development framework that has the accent on education, and an upgrading the CDIO framework to also contain training students about innovating products, processes and systems when the technology itself has not yet passed the threshold for full scale application.

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Hands-on learning the new mantra for engineering education at TU Eindhoven

February 1st, the day after the second National Interdisciplinary Education Conference (NIEC 2018), the Eindhoven team of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education organised the Education Innovation Day at TU Eindhoven (TU/e). I got the invitation to run two workshops on building an engineering body of knowledge in a hands-on learning environment. From the presentation “Expedition 2030” by the Dean of the Bachelors College Lex Lemmens, I soon found out why these workshops would be highly relevant: in the discussions about an updated strategy for education in 2030, TU/e has put a new dot on the horizon, where hands-on learning is a key asset in the Bachelor and Master programmes. Many other vision statements I have described in my report “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World” may be brought to life as well.

“Learning-by-doing is going to be the new thing for us”
(Quote Lex Lemmens, TU/e)

TU/expedition 2030

From the presentation I understand that the rethinking of the university strategy focuses on the impact of six driving forces:

  1. the rise of the digital technologies in the engineering profession and in higher education (ubiquitous content, need for digital intelligence, digital learning environment);
  2. the increasing importance of professional skills beyond the engineering discipline;
  3. the increasing global mobility of students and staff;
  4. the convergence of digital, science, engineering and social disciplines;
  5. the need to develop global innovation hubs to accelerate development cycles;
  6. the need for more societal and industrial engagement.

Although the strategy is still in a nascent state, “on-campus” and “hands-on” education are the key words. They lead to the following three leading directions for the transformation:

Learners will create their own playlist

In 2030 all students in the classroom will be digital natives. The digitalisation of the learning environment and study materials enables the students to create their own playlists and compose personalised study programmes in line with the individual capacity, interest and ambition. From day one it makes the students responsible for their learning and makes them more aware that education is a preparation for life. TU/e foresees a transformation of the existing rigid curricular Bachelor and Master structures in highly flexible curricula in which each student has a high degree of freedom to build his or her study programme from separate modules, micro-credentials and nano degrees. These originate from an unbundling of the existing curricula in Eindhoven or can be taken from (qualified) programmes from other universities. Programme certificates will guarantee the quality of the individual degree programme. It will require an extensive upskilling of the teaching staff, new didactic and pedagogic learning systems and software that supports the teachers in tracking of individual competence development, and the students in planning and control of study activities. It will also require “flip-thinking” to turn traditional didactics, rules and regulations into enablers for personalised study programmes.

Hands-on learning labs will become the prime educational spaces

In spite of the rapidly growing student numbers, TU/e aims to transform the Bachelor and Master curricula into highly interactive programmes with 70% or more hands-on learning. Nowadays this is less than 30% of the study time. Hands-on learning will prepare students to become curiosity-driven makers and discoverers of their future careers. Hands-on learning  is a catch-all for problem-based, project-based, design-based or challenge-based education. For me hands-on learning is about equivalent to “learn how to engineer“. It may include design and analysis work, experimentation, research work, conceive-design-build-operate projects (following the CDIO approach), where students work in multi- or interdisciplinary student teams, possibly in collaboration with stakeholders from industry or society. To accommodate such a hands-on learning environment, the university plans to invest in new physical learning environments, such as Innovation Spaces. They should develop into the prime educational spaces on the campus. One of the main educational buildings is already under major reconstruction works for a transformation into an Innovation Space. Also teaching staff will have to prepare for a major switch from mainly transferring content to merely coaching, monitoring performance and validating work. A challenge indeed. Do sufficient senior staff have the willingness and capability to act as a change agent?

Engineering education: interdisciplinary and embedded in an innovation ecosystem

The way we educate future generations no longer prepares them adequately for the skills and jobs of today. The idea that engineering students study mathematics and engineering sciences as separate disciplines, and then work to solve real world problems in today’s economy, does not add up. The engineering profession in business as well as academia increasingly demands skills like systems thinking, interdisciplinary thinking and digital intelligence. TU/e explained their vision on the T-shaped professional: all engineering students will need a broad basis in engineering fundamentals of mechanical and electrical and chemical engineering and computer sciences and architecture. It will enable the students to collaborate effectively in multidisciplinary teams. Another vision however explained the attractiveness to educate an M-shaped professional, who has deep knowledge in one, and deep knowledge in one or two other engineering disciplines. The M-shaped professional is well equipped to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams. I doubt if professionals with deep knowledge in two or three engineering disciplines, do indeed have the capacity to be integrative: a mastery of different but similar disciplines does not necessarily make them interdisciplinary by itself. My favourite model is therefore the Π-shaped professional, who has deep knowledge in an engineering discipline and a good working knowledge of one or more branches of social sciences or humanities.

“Engineering students have to learn that people policies, environmental aspects, politics, economics or cultural values often override disciplinary expertise”

A strong collaboration between the university and industrial partners and institutes will be essential. TU/e therefore forms ideas to develop an innovation hub, the so-called TU/engine. In this innovation ecosystem researchers, students, entrepreneurs, companies and R&D professionals will collaborate in interdisciplinary flagship projects.

Building an engineering body of knowledge in a hands-on learning environment

Awareness

The aim of my workshops was the development of awareness of the impact that a major shift to a hands-on learning environment could have on the learning of the engineering body of knowledge. In such learning environment the mental organiser for staff and students is the thread of design work, project work, challenge-based education, etcetera.

This is in contrast with many today’s curricula, where projects are often supplemental with Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO) that emphasise personal and interpersonal skills (communication, teamwork, creativity, initiative, leadership). In these curricula the courses in engineering fundamentals and disciplinary subject matter are often concluded by exams, mainly testing memorisation, application and understanding.

Technical depth: more important than ever

In the discussions about the increasing importance to develop “21st century skills” in an active hands-on learning environment, we tend to forget that in 2030 the mastery of deep working knowledge of engineering sciences will be more important than ever.Deep knowledge will remain the key for understanding the value and assessing the reliability and usability of the exponentially growing amount of information in our technological world. Also in 2030 creative solutions for engineering problems cannot emerge from a vacuum and will need a broad and ready availability amount of engineering domain knowledge.

Project-centric curricular framework, slightly adapted from NEET framework of MIT School of Engineering

Next Engineering Education Transformation

For ideation I showed the participants the so-called NEET (Next Engineering Education Transformation) project-centric curricular framework that is currently under development by MIT School of Engineering. Where students learn what they need to know to design innovative solutions for advanced machines, systems and processes that will be on the market in twenty to thirty years time. ILO’s for the integrative learning of engineering knowledge and durable skills are defined per project and are tested by integral assessments within the projects. When TU/e adopts a similar (NEET) approach, and puts on top of that a mix with personalised learning, what exactly do we want the students to learn in these hands-on learning environments? How should we reformulate the ILO’s for disciplinary content knowledge, harmonised and integrated with durable skills? How can we measure the formal disciplinary knowledge and competency levels that really matter? Or is there a way to avoid assigning marks after all, as Eric Mazur,  the well-known educator at Harvard, proclaims in his Assessment: the silent killer of learning?

Learning objectives, attainment levels, assessments and flip-thinking

The lively discussions in the workshops highlighted multiple concerns and ideas. A quick overview:

  • The major change in the role of the teacher, shifting from transferring content to coaching students in their development.
  • The conflicting goals of acquiring knowledge, developing skills and obtaining satisfactory project results; the need to integrate skills development in the proper sequence,  in the context of the project and the discipline.
  • The uncertainty in the attainable academic level and the completeness of the engineering body of knowledge. There was discussion about what level of completeness would be  required as a minimum for all students, and there were questions about the risk of too much zapping between subjects by the students.
  • The need for regular self-assessments by the students to define personal learning outcomes and study path and planning, develop preferred engineering roles and the required knowledge level for engineering fields of personal interest.
  • The assessment of the individual attainment levels of sub fields in engineering that are different per person: how can we find the balance between subjective assessment and assessment of the rigour of the engineering domain? Could one integrative summative assessment do the job on the basis of a personal portfolio?
  • Can we copy the concept of the Progress Test (VGT) of Maastricht University all students do four times a year, all at the same time, all with the same questions, to test the attainment level of knowledge and skills in their discipline?
  • The complexity of personal competence-based education: defining, controlling and tracing the development of personal ILO’s.
  • The need to define the ILO’s on programme level on a higher level of abstraction; accreditation agencies have to get involved as well.
  • The lack of staff expertise to supervise interdisciplinary projects, and coach students of different seniority, from different disciplines in different roles: need for team teaching.
  • The need for different educational spaces than the traditional classrooms.
  • The need to build community: departmental structures will be broken down for students as well as staff.

Both workshops identified the need to flip our thinking in almost all aspects. Nothing will be trivial. The change will have to be radical and you can’t implement only parts of such new strategy. Somebody stated “You can’t be just a little bit pregnant!”

“This idea of learning by doing is what is now called “experiential learning,” and though it’s demanding, it is also very effective”. (Quote Ishwar K. Puri in World Economic Forum 27 February 2018)
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This is what we can do to break the gender stereotype in hardcore engineering

Women spend more time than men on social integration, score higher in teamwork and empathy, and are more adaptive to change. Does not this make women the preferred engineers of the future? And if so, what can we do to make this happen?

I am far from being an expert in gender diversity. But a prize award ceremony at our faculty by the International Aviation Women Association (IAWA) in August, a sudden drop in female freshman students at my Faculty in September 2017, a role in the GEDC Airbus Diversity Award session at Niagara Falls in October, and the challenge we have set ourselves the goal in October to triple the female influx by 2025, have got me thinking.

Why so few?

Women are under-represented in many fields of engineering.The stereotype that links masculinity with mechanical, civil, electrical and aerospace engineering is prevalent and difficult to overcome. Could it be the way these disciplines have portrayed themselves? For too long they have presented themselves as fields that recruit the best brains in mathematics and sciences and shape them into problem solvers who wear a hard hat and work on-site. For too long they forget to tell that engineers not only solve cut-and-dried problems but also define and analyse problems, design creative solutions for ambiguous problems, and use 3D design, analysis, simulation and intelligence software! That’s how they build skyscrapers, design modern airplanes and invent things that improve and save people’s lives.

We forget to emphasise that engineering is a social activity and shifts towards more contact and more empathy with customers and colleagues. Any new technology, system, building or infrastructure we see in our daily world is the work of a team of engineers. Rather than thinking of engineering capabilities as gender-related, engineering is very much person-related. Since women spend more time than men on social integration, score higher in teamwork and empathy, and are more adaptive to change, could not this make women the preferred engineers of the future?

Women in a Man’s World, but not everywhere

Photo: TU Delft

Many countries in Europe have a low percentage of female engineering professionals. Engineering industry has earned itself a reputation of being a male bastion and seems to forget that no technology will work optimally if fifty percent of the people from the world, the women, are excluded.

The absolute numbers and the ranking of countries depend on which research and statistics we take as a reference. The percentage of female employees in the engineering middle and upper segment in the Netherlands seems to be lower than anywhere else in Europe: with 18 % women in engineering, the Netherlands seems to be at the very bottom. The figures are quite different when we look at Germany and Belgium at about 25-30%,  and Eastern Europe is leading the field at 35 to 40% with Bulgaria as the winner with 41 % female employees (ref. Dutch magazine De Ingenieur April 2015). Outside Europe the gap closes even further as China, India, Jordan, Malaysia edge upwards to fifty per cent. And in Iran even seventy per cent of science and engineering students are female! These data show large disparities from country to country, and the forces at play are very complex and multidimensional.

The low figures of female employment in the Netherlands not only apply to the engineering sector. The January 2018 report (in Dutch)  “Werken aan de Start, Jonge vrouwen en mannen op de arbeidsmarkt” by the Netherlands Institute of Social Research reads, that nowhere else in Europe young women work so few hours than in the Netherlands, and nowhere else the difference between men and women is so large. In the Netherlands many women chose for sectors that easily accommodate parttime jobs. Particularly in the health sector parttime jobs are favourite and “normal”, in the engineering sector they are not.

Lack of role models

One of the barriers to young women is that they don’t see more than a handful of females who are doing traditionally “male” jobs in the engineering and technology sector. It makes them assume that such roles are more or less closed to them. Aspirant female students who think about a study in engineering sciences look at faculty and find mainly grey-haired men. Also in my Faculty of Aerospace Engineering the gender profile is unbalanced. Eighty-seven per cent of the permanent scientific staff (full, associate, assistant professors) at my faculty is male, not necessarily all bold or grey-haired. Only one of the seven-member Management Team is a woman. Only fourteen per cent of the Bachelor and twelve per cent of the Master student population is female (ref. TU Delft Facts and Figures/Staff 2016).

The world needs more women in engineering

To solve the world’s problems and come up with innovative ideas we need a diverse set of minds. The largest pool of under-utilised talent is the women. They would make great engineers, but why do so many choose non-engineering careers? I believe it’s not only the Man’s World. It’s also the image of the engineering disciplines we stick to the mind of the students. Millennial students in general, and young women in particular, want to make a difference in the world, want to help people and add value. Engineering is exactly doing that: making life better and a safer place, but we often forget to mention. My first hit on today’s TU Delft website describes in 500 words the origami’ lattices with nano-scale surface ornaments, and mentions, hidden in the text in just five words, that it “can be used in medical implants”. It is one out of tons of examples that in research universities, pride in engineering sciences stands fiercely for its technology, not for its purpose.

Gender stereotypes

There is no valid argument why men and women would have different reasons for enrolling in engineering. Many of my students mention they are good at maths and science in their pre-university education and want good employability, interesting career paths with well-paid professional opportunities. Women, more often than men, add that they want to become socially responsible engineers. They do not want to become a nerdy engineer but solve major problems, make a difference in people’s lives. They are more likely than their male counterparts, interested in engineering work that is “socially conscious”, i.e. specialisations such as environmental or biomedical, extraterrestrial life search, instead of the hard electrical, civil or aerospace engineering.

Another argument that plays a role is that engineering students quickly find out that collaboration and teamwork constitute a core component of being an engineer. For quite some female engineering students the first encounter with this teamwork is influenced by gender stereotypical behaviour by their peers. Female students like team work, but too often they are relegated to doing more routine work or reporting activities, and are excluded by the males from the “real” engineering work.

In my faculty we try to mitigate such relegation by assigning at least three female students to a team of eight or ten students, or no women at all, which is not the ideal world either. This also takes advantage of a conclusion in the report by HFMtalentindex and the Royal Dutch Institute for Engineering: “For women to thrive and fully utilise these (learning) agilities, they must be in teams that contain other women” and “….when a woman is in a team containing only men, the opportunities to interact together, to share ideas, and to learn from each other is quite limited”. Women want freedom and have the opportunity to be surrounded by others and the ability to ask others for help.

I hear and read stories that also in internships and later in the the workplace women are more often than men coupled with less challenging projects and confronted with sexism and everyday harassment, often in isolation from supportive chiefs or colleagues. Such perspectives easily lead female students to revisit their ambitions. They begin to question whether engineering is what they really want to do. The engineering sector is moving, and I know for instance the European Airbus multinational is taking (gender) diversity very seriously. But I forecast that also in the coming decade female students and engineers will need perseverance not to let the stereotypes distract them. In many companies they still have to be better than their male colleagues to achieve the same career opportunities.

Talking differently about engineering will attract different people

Women feel, more than men, attracted to “purpose”. Developing highly advanced instruments, optimising product or system designs, doing research without the user or the application in mind, do not have the visible impact on society. So I make a plea to add a mindset of societal and industrial engagement to the engineering curricula, by bringing environment and societal, economic and political contexts into the classroom, much more than we are used to. Incorporating such mindset requires a major mind-shift of the staff but will lead to higher student engagement and educate better engineers. More women will feel attracted. Look at the better gender balance in the fields of life sciences, architecture, planetary exploration, biotechnology and the search for extraterrestrial life. In these fields it is the societal impact that makes the difference. The TU Delft 2018 corporate movie  “You are everywhere in my life” on YouTube is one of the few portraits that shows very well what the role of engineering in everybody’s life is.

In our outreach and informative sessions for prospective students, we have to reframe engineering in a more purposeful and creative profession that resonates better with women’s interest. We have to connect it, in my discipline, more tightly to the great challenges in aeronautics and spaceflight. Secondly we should change the profile of engineering into a more creative and problem-solving profession. I hear people say that the addition of arts to engineering education could add the necessary motivation of creativity and attract more female students.  So, should not we empower the female students in the makerspaces and innovation factories on campus where engineering specialists, customers, users and other stakeholders join together?

 “We will attract more female students if we let them use engineering to solve real-world challenges, where they learn how their creativity and engineering skills can make a real difference”

Are females the engineers for the future?

The conclusion in the study about learning agility of HFMtalentindex reads “(…) women are the ideal candidate to hire (…).” Women are stronger than men in people agility (social integration, openness to people) and self-awareness (knowing your own strengths and weaknesses). The report reads “This is an ideal combination, since previous research found that those who have this profile have the greatest development change over time (…) show a greater improvement in their current function than those who don’t”. “Female engineers also score higher than their male counterparts in almost all the competencies, meaning they have more potential than male engineers.” If we add these insights to the expectations that the developments in robotics and artificial intelligence will create new jobs that require human aspects and human intervention, it’s clear that the Fourth Industrial Revolution forces us to rewire the DNA of engineering teams.

Solving complex problems needs creativity, and creativity demands a diversity of view points. Without the input from women, engineers have only access to half the total pool of creativity, which limits the applicability of solutions they reach. According to a study by McKinsey, the most gender-diverse companies are fifteen per cent more likely to outperform financially than the least gender-diverse. Diversity in workforce is good for business. It offers a broader range of skills and perspectives and encourages better performance and behaviour.

It is not only half of the creativity we miss. I wonder how companies who want to grow and understand trends and discover new market niches can be successful without understanding and without having the skills to empathise with the female perspectives?

Opportunities for women with a career break

For engineering business as well as universities, attracting women who have taken a career break, may help to enlarge the number of females in senior or leadership roles. It is probably a quicker way to find candidates with experience by selecting them from a highly motivated pool who have difficulty in getting back in the world of work. It is also much quicker and cheaper to upskill a  returner in comparison to starting with a young graduate who usually misses many professional skills of teamwork or project management.

Lack of confidence causes women change their minds

Female engineering students perform equally or better than men. But they are more likely than men to leave the study or switch to a more social or societal oriented study. They switch more than men because they don’t believe their skills are good enough or don’t feel like they fit in engineering. Such lack of confidence is an important factor when competing with men, for instance in selective admissions to an engineering programme or a job.

Impact of selective admission

My Faculty has to do much better in gender diversity and we have therefore set ourselves the goal of thirty per cent female students influx in 2025. It means an annual rise of sixteen per cent in female student intake per year, for the next eight years in a row… I call that a challenge. It is the reaction to many years of slow but steady rise and a sudden decline from sixteen to nine per cent of female influx in 2017. More women and an inclusive culture will enhance the effectiveness of our educational programmes. But we have to understand that instilling such inclusive culture in the university will be a challenge.

Since 2017 we as a Faculty have entered the era of selective admission of prospective Bachelor students and are aware that we run risks of exclusion due to a bias in the criteria or process for admission. We select students who are expected to have the highest ability and potential to succeed in our Bachelor programme. Diversity in gender, race, religion, social background, talent or any other contextual factor are not part of our admission criteria. The emphasis of our selection process is on high-achieving single-minded academic applicants. The lack of confidence by women I addressed in the above, possibly prevents more female than male students from applying to our programme, or completing the admission process, and if it does, we have to find out how to mitigate.

The GEDC – Airbus Diversity Award

The GEDC – Airbus Diversity Award ceremony. From left to right: Aldert Kamp, Rachel Schroeder, Alex Bannigan – finalist, Qiao Sun – finalist, Taiwo Tejumola – recipient of GEDC Airbus Diversity Award 2017)

Diversity and Inclusiveness were among the most popular words at the Global Engineering Deans Council conference at Niagara Falls in October 2017. Diversity is the prime condition for a reflective community and a driver for innovation and growth. Increasingly sectors and countries recognise the value of diversity and inclusiveness.

Together with Rachel Schroeder, Head of Employment Marketing, Airbus, I hosted an interactive panel on “Diversity in Engineering” where we discussed a number of provocative statements with the deans, where the central question was “Whose responsibility is it to beat the gender bias in engineering?”

  • Engineering universities will only prioritize diversity and inclusiveness when its benefits are evidence-based.
  • Positive discrimination (such as tailored admission standards, special scholarships) will boost diversity at university level.
  • Only when the higher management has the courage to set targets and give incentives for diversity and inclusiveness, the organisation will adopt it.

AI and inclusiveness

I will not elaborate on the discussion, but an unexpected topic that popped up was about the rise of Artificial Intelligence and its potential impact on inclusiveness. Will the learning machines be capable to learn inclusively, or will they reinforce discrimination? It is one more reason why we need more women in engineering. Without their thinking the solutions in artificial intelligence and robotics will be poor and have conscious or unconscious male bias.


Epilogue

Portraying a different image of our curricula, connecting engineering more to society, defeating sexual harassment, using more female role models in engineering, teaming women in project education, adding a mindset of societal and industrial relevance to engineering programmes, empowering especially women in makerspaces, analysing the impact of selective admission processes. The broad spectrum of topics in my post may give the impression I have been scattering away at random about gender diversity. They came to my mind when I started thinking about improving gender diversity at my Faculty.

Diversity and gender equality are hot items. In the five days after publishing this blogpost, I hit upon the recent comprehensive study by Microsoft “Why don’t European girls like science or technology?” and a report of the World Economic Forum “Why 2018 must be the year for women to thrive“. Let’s make time to make it work! We have a long way to go before we will achieve an equal spread of women and men working in the engineering sector. But when men learn about gender inequality at work? They fight it.

“If you want your company to be successful; if you want your company to operate with wisdom, with care, then women are the best”.
(Quote Jack Ma, Executive Chairman Alibaba,
at World Economic Conference in Davos 24 January 2018)

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Looking at the outside world: Never urgent but always important

December 2016 I felt a bit annoyed when I asked my Department of Communication to support me in giving exposure to advancements and innovations in our on-campus aerospace engineering education, but got their advice to start a personal weblog instead. They explained to me that the “innovative ecosystem of education”, apart from announcing student prizes and teaching awards, is not part of their work. Connecting prospective students with our educational programmes, connecting research and society, and connecting faculty to industry and society is their focus in the coming years. Showing pride in innovative teaching, connecting developments and enhancements in our campus education with other faculties or partner universities is not.

In this 28th blogpost I look back. Writing and publishing posts has worked out differently from what I expected. Has it yielded positive results? Is it worth the effort?

Learning organisation

The original purpose for my weblog I had in mind was to give exposure to innovative concepts and developments in the campus education at my faculty. Staff is continuously enhancing or experimenting, often in a trial-and-error loop, with concepts of blended learning, teaching and learning in studio classrooms, adaptive questioning in online digital assessments, connecting physics and math courses to aerospace engineering and technology, and so on.

Unfortunately only very few have developed the habit of sharing knowledge and experiences of teaching and education. In that respect my faculty has not yet developed in a learning organisation. To my surprise, this is not unique. A recent study on 542 Dutch engineers by HFMtalentindex and the Dutch Royal Institute of Engineering reads on page 3 the bold statement “….engineers (…) don’t put themselves into situations where they can learn from others, since they do not have the necessary competences for that.”

One tenth of a percent

I guess no more than two per cent of the approximately 110 full, associate, assistant professors and fulltime teachers of my Faculty (not counting myself) invests between two and five per cent of their working time to the sharing of results or experiences of innovative campus teaching or consulting people about teaching from outside the faculty. Eighty-five to ninety per cent of the teaching staff spends between zero and one tenth of a per cent (0.1%!) of their working time to an upskilling of didactic competences, learning about new methods of teaching or about shifts in knowledge or skills that are more in demand now or tomorrow than 20 years ago. That’s equivalent to about one half day every three or four years. I can’t believe this is enough for assuring a high level of development of our students in the long run.

Is not that a symptom of what professor Quinn had called “Slow death” in his Change Management Training for Deans at Niagara Falls in October? His book “Deep Change” is, by the way, interesting read to discover what pressure to respond to change can have on an organisation like a university. 

“Best practices from elsewhere are among the most convincing learning materials for professionals”

Look at the outside world

For me looking at the outside world of engineering and engineering education is equivalent to discovery and learning. It is crucial in order to develop visions and strategies on education that are sufficiently broad and tailored to our context and inspire people. It is my motto that best practices from elsewhere are among the most convincing learning materials for professionals.

As a result I have decided already before writing my first blogpost, to shift my weblog from disseminating developments in our own programmes, into a bi-weekly “inocculation” of experiences and impressions I get from my look at the outside world: my involvement in the educational experiments and innovative projects of the Dutch 4TU Centre for Engineering Education, the various international university networks, industrial partner programmes, and individual workshops or discussions with universities or industries. Much of what I hear, see and read is in my opinion of interest for everybody who is developing, producing or enhancing courses or programmes.

Thus my blog has become an online log of personal stories and impressions, opinions and interpretations of my view on the outside world of engineering and technology and its higher education. The blog has one single purpose: inspiring teachers and lecturers, professors, programme coordinators and educational leaders in Delft, the Netherlands and anywhere else in the world. I often use the texts as a reference for presentations or workshops I produce  as well. And every now and then I update an already published post with new information.

My followers

I find it rewarding that my posts are not only read by Delft colleagues but all over the world. The view statistics vary per post. An average of about one per cent of my followers looks affiliated with my faculty and about ten per cent is affiliated with TU Delft. Thirty per cent lives in the Netherlands and seventy per cent lives abroad. Most of my followers have an affiliation with academia, some ten percent have an industrial affiliation and part of them are probably alumni.

LinkedIn statistics show some of the posts have many views from the regions of Eindhoven or Amsterdam,  Porto in Portugal, Madrid or Sevilla in Spain, Toulouse in France, Finland, United Kingdom, or the regions of Boston, Los Angeles or San Francisco. But not everyone who clicks a follow, like, share, reblog or comment link in LinkedIn actually reads the post on my blog.

Favourite subjects

The most successful posts are the ones on a CDIO conference where the repetitive question was “Do we understand what we are doing?”. The second one was the one with the interview om my vision on engineering education in my faculty in 2020,  each having 4800 views. The third one was about the rise of interdisciplinary education and the chances for success in discipline-oriented programmes with 4500 views. In the 27 posts I covered a broad spectrum, from virtual reality to the dissatisfaction of fulltime teachers, from the value of entrepreneurial thinking to the use – and development- of evidence-based education methods, from impressions of European, Australian, American and  Russian developments. Many of these posts have between 1500 and 3500 views, while the roughly 250 views of the recently published posts are still ramping up. You find a convenient overview of the archive of my posts at aldertkamp.weblog.tudelft.nl/author/aldert/.

I found the posts “What makes social scientists think engineering students should not learn how to design?“,  “What trends and developments do 70 engineering deans in Europe care about most?” and “A workshop about worldwide innovations in engineering education. Be inspired or confused” most enjoyable and interesting to write. I have noticed that, once I decide to write a post on a subject, I am listening sharper and have a better eye for meaningful things at a conference or workshop and I have learned to take notes in a more structured manner. This has been very beneficial for my work, pays off for my followers, and could eventually impact engineering education on a large scale.

What’s on my agenda 2018?

Also in 2018 I am going to reserve working time to write a post typically once every two weeks.  I have (already too) many subjects on my mind. They are about breaking the gender stereotype in engineering, the new TU Delft vision on education 2018-2024 in comparison with my personal vision, dreaming of a Master’s around student choices and less strictly regulated environment, and an exploration by Delft honours students of the future of engineering education in Japan.

And I am pretty sure the 2nd National Interdisciplinary Education conference in Einhoven and the CDIO European Regional Meeting in Moscow about research- and innovation-based education, will give me new food for thought and blogposts in January and February.

I hope you find my posts interesting. If you enjoy reading them, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to friends or colleagues, or sharing it on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook. Thank you!

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How an online ProfEd course can help young or senior engineering professionals and Master students Design their Next Career Move

If you are a  frequent follower of my blog, you can’t have missed my lasting message that we are living in a rapidly changing world and that change is accelerating. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of engineering. Against this moving backdrop it is vital to ensure that everybody has a career where you thrive, feel valued and develop professionally.

In close collaboration with educational engineering researchers of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education and consultants of the TU Delft Career Centre,  I have been involved in the development of a six-week online ProfEd course that will be launched January 24th, 2018. We have geared it towards  working professionals, no matter what stage of life they are at, as well as engineering students who are nearing graduation and prepare for the world of work.

We will make the online course available 24/7, so that the participants have access to the discussion forums and the course materials when they want and need it, and can accommodate the course in their busy personal daily schedule. People who have never done an online course before will soon find out that an online community of diverse fellow professional engineers opens up unexpected possibilities for learning how to explore the options, design and land your next career move!

What is the course about?

Participants of the online ProfEd course will master a career-thinking model specifically aimed at engineers. It will help them to identify their career challenges and create scenarios that enable them to take the lead in moving your career forward. Whether you are in the early stages of your career or an experienced professional, the benefits of following a systems approach will give any participant a unique advantage when planning and designing your next career move.

Once enrolled, you will work through a five-step career-thinking model, in which you reflect on your personal unique experiences, attitudes and strengths. The participants will define their current career challenge, explore different solutions and walk away with a validated and tailored role that inspires and motivates.

In the course they will:

  • Review their career to date to identify personal strengths and potential.
  • Define current career challenges.
  • Receive expert and peer advice on potential solutions to career challenges.
  • Experiment with ideas to tackle personal career challenges and conduct searches to identify a list of target companies and roles that best suit individual career aspirations.
  • Validate preferred professional roles and test this option so they can make an informed decision.
  • Create an action plan to actualise theit individual next career move.

By the end of this course, the participants have learnt how to define next career challenges, use a career-thinking model, create preferred professional role for now and in the future, get involved with a supportive community to seek feedback and open up possibilities, and develop and evaluate actions for testing personal options.

Professional roles

Various triggers from the professional field of engineering led us to develop this online ProfEd course. One of these triggers was the set of future engineering roles, that was developed by a Think Tank at TU Delft of professional engineers, by looking at trends in engineering, technology and society, thereby considering the knowledge and skills future engineers will need to thrive in these new situations.  These professional roles, that were subject of a previous blogpost, are used in this course as one of many vehicles to acquire interesting insights and context for people who want to explore paths for future development, no matter whether they are employed (or looking for employment) as a “routine” professional engineer, a scientific engineer or specialist, an entrepreneurial engineer, or a change agent or influencer.

In the ProfEd course the participants reflect on their unique experiences, attitudes and strengths through a five-step career-thinking model. They define their current or potential career challenges, explore different solutions and walk away with an inspiring validated and tailored role.

More information and registration

Since it’s a self-paced course, registration is open any time. Please find detailed course information on the website of “Design Your Next Career Move.

Continue reading

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What if 200 engineering deans are thrilled by the futurist Industry 4.0, but nobody has the courage to adapt the curriculum?

Mid October 2017 over 200 engineering deans from all over the world convened the Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC) at Niagara Falls to discuss “issues of importance to engineering education”: the exponential change in engineering and technology, its impact on society and engineering education, and the aspect of diversity and inclusiveness in the STEM field (which I will address in another blog). Because we have “to better prepare our  graduates for the fourth industrial revolution, that will continue to transform our world through digital disruption”, as the conference programme announced.

The conference memorised the main goal of engineering education in the second half of the 20th century was to provide engineers for life-time steady jobs in industry. But the 4th Industrial Revolution, replete with automation and ubiquitous sensing, will undoubtedly produce tremendous disruption in economies and the profession of the engineer.

Accelerating growth and development, but not in education

Increasing gap between developments in engineering/technology and society/education (Source: GEDC Industry Forum 2017, p.17)

In many sessions we talked about the exponential change in engineering and  technology. Ron Brown of the company EWI Advanced Automation demonstrated the accelerating growth in human knowledge: “In 1900 human knowledge doubled every century, in 1945 every 25 years, in 2013 every 13 months, and soon with the build-out of the Internet of Things, human knowledge will double every 12 hours.

Dave Wilson, Vice President, Product Marketing for Software, Academics, Customer Education of National Instruments, illustrated the exponential change by remembering Moore’s law of increasing the number of transistors on a chip from 10 million in 2000 to 15 billion in 2017. He showed the accelerating growth in FPGA performance (GMACs) that raised by a factor of 4500 in that same period, the power efficiency of ADC converters that increased by a factor of 2500, and last but not least the internet speed that increased by a factor of 800,000 since the mid eighties.

Have we been fast enough?

Many deans of engineering programmes worldwide shared the concern that their programme is stuck in teaching knowledge and skills that made sense when they had to prepare their students for a job in Industry 2.0 (electrically-powered mass production) or 3.0 (automation of manufacturing). The deans took the blame: “We have missed the quality revolution and information technology in the past. And until now we have missed this next revolution, simply because our research universities have moved so far away from our stakeholders, industry and society. We are not not at all ready to adapt our curricula to the impact of this fourth industrial revolution, and the change is incredible”. In many other conferences I also heard the risk as an argument to change: who dares to change pedagogy and take the risk of a temporal dip due to such change? Such barriers mainly apply to programmes that score high in rankings or have obtained a very positive quality stamp by their accreditation agency.

“We have to make our curricula much more agile to be ready to accommodate shift when we need it. And the “when”is now! Many of us see that young academic staff and students are a new breed who are aware, that if you want to change the world, you have to  be taught differently. We have to put the hope for change on them”. The deans underlined more than once that the lasting lack of incentives for educational performance and innovation in academic career paths is the threatening barrier and easily kills any will for change. But that at the same time the deans feel incapable to change this dissatisfactory system they have made themselves.

“To change the world, you have to be taught differently”

I also heard positive noise and satisfaction, maybe even some complacency. “We shall not forget the good news we have. In the past 15 -20 years many of us have implemented project-based or problem-based education, online education, flipped classrooms, and developed makerspaces. So we are not static and have made lots of progress already.” But, the echo in the audience was “Has it been fast enough? Are we up to speed for further change? Do we know what to change, and if so, how do it?” These were the pressing questions at the conference and I am not sure they were elaborated enough.

Where will we go from here?

Mind-blowing presentations with futurist forecasts for the next 30 years showed world scenarios filled with smart body implants, zero-size intelligence, internet-connected smart textiles, quantum control, nanotechnology, universal translators, avatars and robotics, virtual holidays to exciting imaginary places and effectively in any body, for instance using it to experience another gender or to be young again, holoportation (virtual meetings via holograms), thought police (thought recognition technology to prevent crimes before they happen), superhuman abilities (exoskeleton cat suits using electro-active polymer muscles), space tourism, supersonic trains. On my flight home they encouraged me to read the fascinating book “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly, that outlines the twelve trends in technology that affect how people will work, learn and communicate in future. Kelly concludes his book with the Beginning: we are on the brink of the construction of a planetary system that connects all humans and machines into a global matrix.

The deans did not doubt that the impact on society and the work of the engineer of these developments will be tremendous. A McKinsey impact assessment of Industry 4.0 by industry indicates a 20-50% reduction of time to market, >85% increase in forecasting accuracy, 45-55% increase of productivity in technical professions through automation of knowledge work. “Open your eyes what’s already happening. The rapid change imperils the way we think. The world rushes to embrace the products and services of the four GAFA titanic corporations: We rely on Google for information, we shop with Amazon; socialize on Facebook; turn to Apple for entertainment. These firms sell their efficiency and enable an intoxicating level of daily convenience for the citizen and customer of today, and for the designer and engineer of tomorrow. Do we prepare our students sufficiently to commit to this GAFA life?” (referring to the book: World Without Mind by Franklin Foer). Do we prepare the students in our classrooms sufficiently for the hyperconnected world? Are we ready to educate “comprehenivists”: specialists with deep knowledge in a specific field are needed in the 21st century, but engineers with a higher level and broader understanding of multiple field will be needed as sytems become more complex?

The futurist views were exciting, sometimes overwhelming. But I found them very technically driven. It seems as if engineering becomes, or maybe already is, the centre of society. Should not we expect that future society may also be driven by other concerns and developments than these technological developments alone?

The changing impact of engineering on society, and vice versa

In the opinion of Durban University of Technology the position of engineering in society is changing. Society has to be made the centre of engineering, and no longer should engineering and technology be the centre of society. Engineering and its education will rapidly change from mainly physical towards a technological-social-behavioural-economic discipline. This opinion was underlined by Venkatesh Narayanamurti from Harvard: “Engineering is developing into a central discipline nowadays and a bridge between almost all disciplines. And so engineering is becoming the ultimate liberal art”.

“The university of the future will derive its right to exist primarily from being active in the world and by producing knowledge for the world”(quote prof. Bert van der Zwaan in his recent book Higher Education in 2040 – A Global Approach)

Society and the human person need to get a central role in engineering education, because human behaviour, policies, politics or economics will increasingly override disciplinary expertise when designing solutions for complex problems. I heard an echo of this a month later at the CDIO conference at the Sunshine Coast when Amanda Yeates of the Australian Department of Transport and Main Roads illustrated local as well as international examples, where “the best engineering solutions are not always the best solutions for society or more local communities”. It’s all about societal impact which makes the difference, no matter whether we are talking about civil engineering, energy, biotechnology, robotics, health or aerospace. And it is well proven that it is these connections with society that attract women to STEM disciplines.

Panoramic view of the Niagara Falls from the conference hotel

Changing our engineering education

Two industrial sponsors Quanser and Dassault Systemes mentioned that today’s curricular frameworks are centred around modelling, computing and designing. Today’s engineers don’t solve so many differential equations but design solutions for technical and societal problems, in a business environment that is rapidly changing. “Being competitive is no longer about developing hardware at competitive prices. Increasingly it is about adding a”layer of services” to the hardware, especially software as a service”, Ms. Vittadi, Executive Vice President Head of Engineering at Airbus Defence and Space says in the Industry Forum Report. And so engineer’s creativity, attitude, decision-making, and execution abilities become more important than mere technology.

Wrapping up the sessions on Bio-innovation, Energy, Smart cities and Circular Economy, I believe that engineers who are suitable for the emerging industrial revolution that is enabled by Industry 4.0, will need a QR code of:

  • rigour of technical fundamentals of 21st century engineering
  • deep skills in data science, data analytics and cybersecurity
  • designing products and processes for the environment
  • life-cycle systems engineering knowledge
  • commercial awareness
  • protection of products, IT and industrial frameworks
  • empathy for sustainability
  • ethical framework: powerful technologies will lead to unforeseen impactful consequences.

In the session on Advanced Manufacturing the panel discussed its concern that the current knowledge and skills level at Master level is insufficient for employment in an environment of advanced manufacturing engineering. Manufacturing technologies become a leading-edge technology but are hardly educated in today’s engineering curricula. Bachelor and Master curricula in any engineering discipline shall be upgraded to accommodate the learning of :

  • next-generation robotics
  • additive manufacturing
  • smart materials
  • artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • the Internet of Things (IoT)
  • predictive analytics
  • augmented and virtual reality technologies

Last week the industrial Advisory Council of my Faculty of Aerospace Engineering in Delft also stressed the need to go deep on automation, artificial intelligence, robotisation, computer modeling and (VR and AR) simulation techniques.

The GEDC also discussed the value of adding the a dimension of Mindsets to a curriculum, in addition to the Intended Learning Outcomes of Knowledge and Skills. Examples of such Mindsets could be Growth, an Employer’s perspective, Innovation,  Society as the Centre of Engineering, and in my domain the Combat between (the exponential growth in) flying and the environmental impact. Mindsets provide convergence and integration in student learning.

Many of the above statements are in agreement, or had specifically been prepared at the GEDC Industry Forum 2017 in Fontainebleau near Paris in June 2017. The Industry Forum Event Report “Designing the Future of Engineering Education” is available online  here.

Who has the courage to change?

It is great that over 200 deans developed some awareness of the urgency to change: “If we are not going to change soon, we are going to loose”. The presentations at the conference were overwhelming and the discussions inspiring. But when I left Niagara Falls I wondered what impact all these futurist forecasts of engineering and technology may have on our engineering education.

It reminded me to the book “Don’t even think about it” by George Marshall. Its subtitle is “Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change”. It made me realise that thinking about climate change and educational change is strikingly similar: It’s not that universities don’t want to think about educational change. They often decide not to think about it because they doubt the effect of the changing world on their education and therefore chose to place it in the future. It is so abstract, distant, invisible, disputed, and, so uncertain.

I know many academic staff around me who say “I don’t know anybody who is important to me, who is worried about the impact of the fast changes in technology and society on my education. So it can’t be very important”. (rephrased sentence from the book “Don’t even think about it”)

Students as the change agent

New universities that are built “from the ground up” with completely new curricula, as well as forward-thinking schools of engineering have often the courage to engage students in curriculum development. It is never too early for students to contribute to their own learning and to the development of the engineering programmes. The University of Toronto presented their set-up of first-year undergraduate projects which are either client-proposed or student-defined and developed by teams that have at least 30% foreign students. Just like the European Conference of Engineering Deans in Munich in 2017 (my blog), the GEDC deans have high expectations on the new breed of students as the change agent.

Industry 4.0 is on the threshold

The message I bring back to my university in Delft is the importance and urgency to integrate the new high- demand knowledge and skills in all engineering curricula. They emerge from the revolution that is enabled by Industry 4.0 and cover the spectrum from data science, data analytics, cybersecurity, to next-generation robotics, advanced manufacturing technologies, smart materials, the Internet of Things (IoT), predictive analytics, AR/VR technologies and are applicable to any discipline in design, engineering or sciences! At TU Delft I see an initiative this year to incorporate an introductory course in Python programming in those engineering curricula that have missed the Third Industrial Revolution of Digitalisation over the past 25 years… It goes without saying that an introductory Python course is only a drop in the ocean of what is needed to prepare our students for the digital age.

On page 29 of my report “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World” I wrote that digital literacy, a catch-all for many aspects I mention above, has to become a basic literacy in higher engineering education. In business an exponentially widening gap between product performance and customer demands would lead to sleepless nights for many CEO’s. Is not it fascinating that academia can live so long in their own bubble, disconnected from the revolution that takes place in the way we engineer and design in engineering business?

The deans at Niagara Falls were thrilled by the stories about rapid developments and futurist forecasts in technology. But I missed the sense of urgency to change. Time will tell who ramped up the investment in particularly the digital literacy skills, to ready their graduates for the next technological age of Industry 4.0.

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How to benefit most from digital co-creation in a rapidly changing world

Embracing the future today

Digitalisation, technology and innovation have advanced industries in ways that previously could not have been imagined. The world is in a perpetual state of change and flux and, as a result, the world of engineering faces a number of questions. These include: What is the biggest change in the engineering industry? How and with what tools can all stakeholders adapt and benefit? How will this impact co-creation with clients?

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What are the successful professional roles of the future in engineering?

In my August 2017 post about professional profiles and engineering role models I discussed the difficulty of their incorporation, as well as the development of a good representative image of engineering practice in our curricula. The real world is even more complicated. In less than twenty years we have transformed the way we work, communicate and do business, and these trends will only accelerate in the future. In other words: how future-proof are the professional roles I described in my previous blog?

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Russia’s catching up on active forms of engineering education

As the Co-director of the CDIO Initiative I was invited for a Russian national conference 25-26 October at a place that was not directly on my mind: Surgut, city in northwest Siberia on the Ob River, about 400,000 inhabitants and home to two of world’s most powerful gas-fired power plants that produce over 7,200 megawatt (which is five times the biggest Eemshaven power plant in the Netherlands) and supply the region with relatively cheap electricity. Approaching the city from air leaves no doubt: Surgut’s economy is tied to oil and gas production; it’s “the Oil Capital of Russia”.

Surgut State University, a 24-year young university with 7500 students and 700 academic staff, invited me to join the conference “CDIO Global Initiative in the Russian Educational System”, to learn about the CDIO-related educational reforms in Russia, welcome the participants on behalf of the CDIO community, share my vision on taking engineering education to 2030, and discuss about my experiences in transforming curricula with the CDIO methodology in mind.

The university is one of 16 Russian universities that are involved in reforming  their engineering education to active forms of learning and teaching in accordance with international standards. These universities have decided to implement project education and modernise their bachelor programmes in line with the CDIO methodology. They have to make a big mind shift and major change in hierarchical culture. Do they have the will and possibility to catch up? I was surprised.

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Can Virtual Reality enhance our education?

“VR/AR will prepare students for Industry 4.0”; “Engineering education cannot keep up with the pace of change in technology”; “We don’t know what the implications are of VR/AR technology on teaching and learning”; “VR/AR is the next frontier in education”; “Teachers are known to be skeptical about the value of VR”, and “Placing avatars in a scene to interact with the students poses a formidable challenge”.

These are just a couple of statements I collected from a number of papers and articles I read about the use of Virtual and Augmented Reality in education. Every time I immerse myself in a virtual reality or watch a demonstration of VR technology I am engaged and fascinated by the amazing possibilities and rapid developments. Call me an average layman in this area, I summarise the above as follows:

“There is little doubt that VR/AR engages and stimulates the senses of our students. But does it improve learning?”

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How to transform disposable fulltime lecturers into innovative power?

Research universities have put the primary focus on the quality of research already for decades. Scientific staff is encouraged to research and publish. Appraisal cycles and career advancement rest on research achievements, with teaching achievement playing only a marginal role, as Ruth Graham shows in her study “Does teaching advance your academic career?“. It’s no surprise many scientific staff have difficulty in finding a balance between their research and the demanding activities of teaching, upgrading of courses and didactic upskilling.

When universities decide to give so much more value to research than education, why then don’t they use more full-time lecturers, for instance for the production of courses in the first years of study that have to be delivered to large numbers of students and require intensive teaching and tutoring, or for the innovation of education as well? They could make intensive classes sustainable, take education to a higher level and bring a great relief to the researchers.

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If you can’t change your curriculum fast enough with innovation and entrepreneurial skills, try a complementary programme

After the CDIO Annual Conference in June, an icewalk on the Athabasca glacier, a visit to Lake Louise with its vivid turquoise waters, followed by a hike to Lake Agnes in the Banff National Park, and spectacular views of the impressive 140 m deep Helmcken Falls and the 20 m deep but broad Dawson Falls that crashes down a rough bed of lava rocks in the amazingly quiet Wells Gray Provincial Park, I arrived at the Okanagan’s brand new campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Kelowna.

Not just to say hello. I was invited to join an in-depth think session with the UBC development team of an interdisciplinary, hands-on curriculum that will complement monodisciplinary study programmes at our universities and so better prepare the students for a career in innovation activities. I am excited and enthusiastic about this curriculum because it is all about innovation, entrepreneurial and collaborative skills. All Master graduates of any engineering studies will need the mastery of these skills for a successful career in tomorrows’ world.

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Do professional role models or profiles enable students to jump head-first into the world of work, get the job they really want, and achieve results?

Why do so many students begin an academic study in engineering? Often it is the promising good employability! Is n’t it surprising then that many students in academic engineering studies start thinking about their future career at a late stage in their studies, sometimes make thoughtless decisions on their first job, or even delay the final thesis assessment on purpose, because they feel insufficiently prepared for life after graduation. The perception that students have of engineering, the possibilities they have and the skills they need are often based on their own intuition. That is the outcome of the recent study “Mind the Gap” by TechYourFuture, a collaboration between two Dutch universities and industries.

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Toekomst van hoger technisch onderwijs in de maritieme sector

Stilstaan gevaarlijker dan meebewegen met onzekere verandering

Vinden afgestudeerden met een academische opleiding in de maritieme techniek over tien tot vijftien jaar nog steeds gemakkelijk een baan? Of zijn de kennis en vaardigheden die worden aangeleerd in hedendaagse curricula tegen die tijd achterhaald? Ik heb mij als directeur onderwijs (luchtvaart- en ruimtevaarttechniek) de afgelopen 2,5 jaar verdiept in de snel veranderende wereld en een visie ontwikkeld op wat de ingenieur van morgen zou moeten kennen en vooral zou moeten kunnen, en welke impact dat kan hebben op het bachelor- en masteronderwijs.

Het is moeilijk voor te stellen hoe de werkwereld van de ingenieur er over twintig tot dertig jaar zal uitzien. ‘Voorspellen is moeilijk, vooral als het om de toekomst gaat’, zei Niels Bohr al eens. De manier waarop we werken, handelen, kopen, communiceren, reizen en zaken doen verandert razendsnel onder invloed van globalisering en technologische vernieuwingen, het platter en sneller worden van organisaties en netwerken, en de verschuivingen in de sociaaleconomische wereld. We zijn een tijdperk binnengetreden dat internationaal wordt aangeduid als VUCA, wat staat voor Volatile, Complex, Uncertain, Ambiguous. Die vier aspecten zullen de komende decennia verder intensiveren.

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