What makes social scientists think engineering students should not learn how to design?

“Can engineers design? Social science easily proves they cannot”. This is the first line of Bauke Steenhuisen’s essay in the independent university magazine Delta of TU Delft March 2017. In his essay he questions design and design education. Bauke is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Technology, Policy & Management and wrote the essay at the invitation of the TU Network Design Education.

Let me begin to say that I have been a design engineer all my life, so the first line of his essay sounds quite provocative to me. I have been designing satellites, advanced space instruments, satellite orbits, engineering curricula, workshops, street theatre festivals, and more. I have always seen design as a result and as a process that  takes place in the contexts with plenty of unknowns, dynamics and disagreements. No need to say I come from a planet with an engineering society: on my planet the inhabitants believe that design is central to engineering: Design and engineering live hand in hand.

Two tribes of designers

In Bauke’s classification I would belong to the positivist tribe of design engineers at TU Delft. This tribe defines designing as a systematic approach to generate and select alternatives based on a set of requirements. This tribe lacks real-world validity, Bauke says. There exists a second tribe, he says, the postmoderns. They see design as an art or reflective creativity and refer design to virtually anything.

I am glad that both tribes live on the same planet where I live. The balance of engineering design and aesthetics is a core question when looking at design from different angles. A product won’t succeed without functionality and performance, but a customer won’t buy it without any attraction. Good looks, ease of use and solid performance are key assets of any design of whatever product or system.

Is STEM missing an A?

Art without engineeringWill the stereotypes of boring, serious engineers and whimsical, eccentric artists fall by the wayside? I don’t think so. I see many opportunities to enhance the appreciation for the “opposite” side, and to recognize that neither has such limited set of skills or interests as popular opinions may indicate. A merging of art and analysis on both sides could help make this two-way thinking about design less of a competition and more of an opportunity to broaden student achievement. The creative thinking and chaotic approaches of artists could be enriching for the rational thinking and structured project engineering approaches of the engineers, and vice versa. The whole discussion leaves the question of whether STEM is maybe missing an A. Science, technology, engineering, art and math, or STEAM, would have art and design integrated in the learning of the traditional STEM disciplines. I guess the resulting interdisciplinary thinking and the confluence of opposing views would help innovations of new technologies.

Who are they who think we cannot design in a complex, wicked and unruly world?

If an engineer wants to design, he or she needs to have a list of requirements, understand how the world works and make choices in order to promise that their design will have certain desirable effects when implemented. These simple conditions are not at all trivial in the real world. “What if designers ask for a list of requirements but they don’t get one? What if the world keeps changing during and after the design process? What if designers disagree whether the world has changed or whether requirements should change? What if designers don’t know how the world works? What if designers cannot convince each other or the relevant decision-makers to make certain design choices? What if we simply don’t know who actually makes the design choices, even after the choices have been made?”

“The world is complex, wicked and unruly. Hence we cannot control, manage or design” (Bauke Steenhuisen)

“There are always plenty of unknowns, dynamics and disagreements in the game to compromise the opportunity to design”. And thus, Bauke concludes in  his essay, nobody is able to design in the purest form, and so “the core of engineering is hollow, and design is a naïve and hyper-rational disillusion”.

These must be the words of somebody who lives on a different planet than I do, whose civilization is detached from engineering practice and apparently considers design as an exact science. Many design engineers will understand with me that designing in practice is far from being an exact science. That in itself does not justify any of the suggestions in the essay to stop teaching and practicing design skills in engineering curricula. I never heard such utter bullocks.

Because, learning how to deal with all the above if-questions, is not that exactly what design education should be all about? Designing is not only drawing, calculating, developing and inventing. It is a very social and creative activity instead, following a certain methodology like design thinking or systems engineering. And exactly that makes the learning how to design, as one of the key intended learning outcomes for most, if not all engineering programmes.

None of the four suggestions

Let’s get practical, and change design education in our curricula, Bauke says: “Stop offering design challenges in engineering education, teach educated engineering instead of design, teach design as something utopian, or teach engineering students not to design.”

None of these four suggestions to change design education gives me a single reason to believe that engineering graduates will master better engineering and design skills when we adopt any of these suggestions. Of course not! Designing is about adding value. Simply finding solutions for technical problems in isolation does not provide any useful value by itself. The value only arises when the technical solution is implemented and applied, so that customers and end-users can experience the benefits.

The Engineering Design Process (Source: blog Tom Jenkins)

Adopting any of the suggestions would mean that engineering students would no longer learn  that mission complexity is growing faster than the ability to manage it. They would not learn to balance sometimes contradictory demands or understand that designs emerge from pieces and sub-assemblies that are fragile, difficult to manufacture and test and complex to operate and integrate. They would not get the insight that knowledge and experience are lost at project life cycle boundaries, which increases design risk and cost. And they would not learn how technical and programmatic aspects of engineering projects can be coupled to improve risk-based decision making. And they would not acquire the insight that design engineers have to integrate social, functional and physical demands to create valuable design solutions.

Passion and purpose

The essay forgets to address that millennial students look for purpose and authenticity in their study. They will not find them in the abstract theories or concepts but they will in immersive, integrated problem- and challenge-based learning around cases that are of personal and societal significance in the real world. Design challenges offer excellent opportunities to solve  real-world problems and connect to the real world of student’s life and motivate holistic thinking. It is in these projects that students work passionately in interdisciplinary teams and find the purpose of all abstract theories and concepts we feed them in their study. It is in these projects they encounter many of the above iffy questions when they analyse the problem to be solved.

They will also learn that both the problems and the solutions co-evolve over time. If we would decide stop teaching and practicing how to manage that aspect, students will never succeed in solving complex problems in engineering practice because these are full with change and uncertainty. Our  prospective design engineers have to learn how to systematically control these uncertainties and risks, and “do not simply stir in a soup of uncertainties and wait what comes out”. Design failures may happen, and these provide lessons that impact the practice. That does not mean that designing as such is an utopian skill, but reminds the professional designer and the student that designing is a human activity.  Learning how to cope with failures and how to prevent them is crucial. It seems that the author of the essay never heard about the existence of Failure Mode Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA), and Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety (RAMS) analysis in the practice of every day’s design work in engineering practice.

Epilogue

Design forms part of the core of engineering. Design has to remain grounded in the theoretical foundations of engineering education, that span the hard mathematics and physics, engineering sciences, and human and social sciences.

Design education can only be questioned by those who have no clue whatsoever what engineering and design in practice is about. For these people, and many others who are interested in the practice of engineering and design, I recommend the book “The Making of an Expert Engineer” by James Trevelyan. It shows that engineering is much more than solving problems and design. In the daily practice of the professional engineer solving problems and designing solutions are living together. And the handling of the co-evolvement of problems and solutions is one of the key competences that engineering students need to learn in their study, now and in the future.

 

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Evidence-based innovation in engineering education? This is why and how.

What do we learn from trial and error?

Curriculum innovation cycleInnovating curricula is about designing effective learning and teaching environments in continual cycles of educational practice and research. That’s what I have always learned in theory. But I have been curious why the professors and lecturers take very different approaches when they do research in their field of engineering or in their education. The structured process they follow when they aim to advance engineering knowledge and understanding through defining research questions, identifying hypotheses, collecting information and data for the purpose of making decisions, and testing those hypotheses, seems gone when they investigate how to enhance their teaching. The structured methodology is then often replaced by an unstructured trial-and-error process by producing prototype courses and improving them on the run.

Oh yes, I am very much aware that research in engineering and technology is very different from research in didactics. It is more a social sciences sort of thing. Still, that does not explain why hardly ever the innovation cycle in education, as shown in the picture above, is followed. Not very often evidence-based results are reported and disseminated either, while the slogan in research is “publish or perish”. And thus, to say it mildly, there is space for improvement in the learning from each others’ successes and failures in engineering education. If this sounds familiar to you, please continue reading.

The 4TU. Centre for Engineering Education

To help mitigating this issue, the three Executive Boards of the technical universities in the Netherlands, TU Delft, TU Eindhoven and University Twente, decided to start a collaboration on engineering education in 2014. And I was invited to help shaping this collaboration as one of the six board members (two per university). For all six the setting up of this new “business” was an unknown world, a rare opportunity and a new challenge: building a brand new organisational body that represents the three technical universities, starting from a blank sheet of paper with seed funding till 2018. It had to become a business for co-creators, our “customers” in the universities, who are already heavily loaded with work. Organisation, name, plan of action. Nothing existed yet. Where should we begin?

The framework we got from our Executive Boards contained two directives. The organisational body should:

  1. support and research innovations in engineering education that are taking place at the three universities in the Netherlands, and
  2. share the expertise on our educational innovations, thus supporting our international standing with respect to the high quality of engineering education.

3TU v1I will not bore you too much with the history, although it would have been very short. We decided to build on networking models to loosely connect teachers, educational researchers and support staff, and involve international colleagues in our research or innovations when appropriate. We made two categories of activities: distributed work packages that are jointly performed by the three universities together, and local work packages that are performed in one institution and whose results are disseminated upon completion. Last but not least we agreed upon its name: the 3TU.Centre for Engineering Education (3TU.CEE), which was renamed in 4TU.CEE in summer 2016 when the fourth and last technical university of the Netherlands joined, the Wageningen University & Research.

Mission of 4TU Centre for Engineering Education:
“To jointly inspire, stimulate, support and disseminate effective and high-quality engineering education through research-based innovations”

Our achievements and experiences in the first two years

4TU.CEE front coverWe focus our work on topics that are unique for Engineering Education, although this is never a black-and-white thinking. We have set up the network model. In the distributed work packages we researched and reported about a comparison of Bachelor curriculum reconstructions that had taken place simultaneously, but independently from each other, in all three technical universities in 2011-2012. We also developed an online Innovation Map to make innovations and research results searchable and available for anybody within and outside the centre who has an internet connection. And last but not least we explored the characteristics of teaching and assessing multi- and interdisciplinary courses and projects. Jointly we organised the highly successful CDIO European Regional Meeting 2016 in Delft, attracting an all-time high of more than 160 participants. On local level many different activities took place that were fit for purpose for each university. You can read about our achievements in the first two years in our Progress Report.

One local activity in Delft that had my personal interest got significant outreach and impact. It was about my research and vision development on the future engineering skills (publication “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World”; 2nd revised edition). It sparked the “Free Spirits” Think Tank at TU Delft, in which the need for “different” professional profiles of engineers in 2030 were explored, including new concepts for their training and teaching (publication available here). Its results influence the current updating of TU Delft’s Vision on Education and the discussions about TU Delft’s Strategic Framework 2018-2024.

In this start-up phase I learnt that it takes quite some time and energy to find sufficient enthusiast people who are willing to make the extra mile to learn from change, instead of operating in an open-loop trial-and-error process to enhance their education. And this is true even when we offer to compensate the efforts with funds and support by experts or PhD students in education for doing the action research, reporting and dissemination. It needs perseverance. The limiting factor is often not the euros but the hours:  time is the most scarce resource for many of our scientific staff.

But I am optimistic. Trends are positive. The importance of educational performance and continuous professionalisation in the annual appraisal cycle of the staff is increasing. The interest in new pedagogical methods that make use of new insights, such as the flipped classroom and blended learning, or emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality in the classroom, or the embedding of interdisciplinarity and integration of professional engineering skills in mono-disciplinary courses, is steadily growing.

The road ahead of us

In January 2017 the four Executive Boards gave us green light to continue our work for another five years. To avoid a scattering of activities and create as much impact as possible, we limit ourselves to themes and topics that we expect will be the ingredients in how engineering education will evolve. Virtual and augmented reality, future engineering skills, entrepreneurial behaviour, interdisciplinary education, mathematics & engineering integration and challenges that come with growing numbers of students and increasing diversity. The disk below and the Strategic Plan shows our full spectrum of themes and activities for 2017-2019.

Theme lay-out 2017-2020 minus logo

Themes and activities by the 4TU Centre for Engineering Education 2017-2019

Interested?

Are you affiliated with one of our universities and are you looking for advice or support to innovate your course or programme, or do you want to experiment with new teaching or assessment methods. If they match with our chosen themes (please don’t think in black-and-white), feel free to contact the coordinator of your university. Collaborating with the 4TU.CEE gives you access to broad expert knowledge, educational research support, a broad network and an international platform to disseminate your results. With your work under the umbrella of the 4TU.CEE, you profile yourself and demonstrate actively that you take your continuous professional development in teaching serious. And I am confident this is going to count in the annual appraisal cycle more and more.

There is no need to say that we are not so much interested in unstructured open-ended prototyping of courses or programmes or expensive pilots that have only little value for colleagues in other faculties or universities.  Our most important objective and assignment is to share and learn. You, we and the world of higher engineering education around us will only learn, when you make your work evidence based and share your results by reporting in a paper, presentation, seminar, or upload it in our Innovation Map. We can help you with this.

In case you are not affiliated with one the four TU’s then, if you are interested to learn from or together with us, join forces, share knowledge, want to co-create, then please feel free to contact me or one of the coordinators. We are eagerly looking for ways to expand our international network in Europe, and support and strengthen engineering education whenever and wherever we can.

4TU.CEE banner

Since mid January 2017 the 4TU.CEE has started its own weblog, available at 4tucee.weblog.tudelft.nl.

 

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Teaching interdisciplinarity in field-specific disciplinary programmes involves more than just a shift of mind

This second post on interdisciplinary education is about my gain from the National Interdisciplinary Education Conference, organised by the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) February 2nd, 2017. At this conference a wide range of Dutch and Belgian institutes for higher education shared their best practices and discussed the challenges in interdisciplinary education:

  • How can we enable students to make meaningful connections between natural and engineering sciences and humanities and social sciences?
  • How can we support graduates who want to create bridges between business, science, technology and society?
  • How can we create an environment where these worlds can meet, and what are the obstacles that often stand in our way?

“Hyper-specialisation has run its course”

St. John the Baptist in Meditation Hieronymus Bosch

Robert Erdmann in his keynote about his study of the oeuvre of Hieronymous Bosch: “Specialisation has brought us far, but now sometimes we cannot even easily understand the work of colleagues in the next office because we have grown so far apart. The jargon is so different that, unfortunately, we miss out the fact that many of us are working on solving the same problems. In my view this hyper-specialisation has run its course.”

In his keynote “Hyper-specialisation has run its course” professor Robert Erdman, senior scientist at the Rijksmuseum and Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Amsterdam, shared his experience on his interdisciplinary work to help the world access, preserve and understand its cultural heritage. In a fascinating speech with great visualisation and data processing techniques, he showed how he had developed from a hyper-specialist in material sciences, where he simulated microscopic flows through porous media and experiments on micro-gravity metal solidification performed on the International Space Station, to an interdisciplinary scientist, who combines materials sciences with imaging, radiation, chemistry, filament winding technology and computational techniques,  to art objects. He established a highly interdisciplinary research team that studies the oeuvre of Hieronymous Bosch.

His team involves art historians, a technical art historian, a conservator, a photographer, and him as a materials scientist. He presented how the team had developed at least 20 new technologies for processing very high-resolution images, fusing images in different wavelengths from different kinds of cameras together, and constructing interactive visualizations to aid in making comparisons, all drawn from his  past work in different fields.

herding cats

When everybody stays within his or her own discipline, working in an interdisciplinary team is like herding cats.

He stated that “the willingness to work outside your comfort zone is the essential thing of a successful interdisciplinary approach. Just having a team with a lot of disciplines in it does not make work interdisciplinary. You have to go outside your own disciplines, otherwise it’s like herding cats, all people doing their own thing. The added value comes from the overlap.”

 

He emphasized the importance of an interdisciplinary mindset with the following quote of Heinlein:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” (Quote Robert A. Heinlein)

Guiding students in interdisciplinary learning

At conferences you always have to choose which sessions to attend, and consequently I have only got a limited overview of the day. It struck me that teaching interdisciplinarity is all about another mindset: Changing students from being a consumer to a co-producer, from acquiring knowledge to creating a mindset, from specialism to contextualisation, from science to science and society. Learning to work in diverse teams with “Hipsters, Hackers and Hustlers.” Always connecting sciences and society.

To solve real-life problems, students in interdisciplinary teams have to establish their individual learning path on their own, balancing between the challenge domain and solution space, and between theory and practice. One workshop demonstrated how teachers challenged the students in learning agility and resilience. Four weeks after the intense start of their 20-week project, about 40 % of the students of each team were enforced to swap to other teams without giving prior notice.

Interdisciplinary teamwork in an educational programme implies diversity in participants, subjects and contexts. The diversity and the freedom in the choice of courses, assignments,  research projects and context requires excellent academic guidance of the students. Thus we have to support them in tailoring their study  to achieve a coherent and valuable programme. The Utrecht University Graduate School of Life Sciences (GSLS) and the HKU University of Arts Utrecht showed interesting approaches. GSLS offers the students:

  • a boot camp “Study Crafting” in the first week of the study programme to create a sense of belonging and teach the generic core content such as scientific integrity and research methods and other common stuff. Students use the Socrative app for answering questions about understanding personal motivation and career prospects, and marking of levels of competences they already think they have. These competences are identical to the Final Qualifications of the study programme, but students are not made aware of that until completion of the assessment.
  • a module “Envisioning your Future” after a couple of months, in which alumni give 10-minute speeches and have speed dates in round-table sessions with students for about 20 minutes.
  • a webinar “Off you go”, where students learn, by watching video clips and face-to-face discussions, about personality, personal ambitions, interests, career prospects, different professional roles, career services, self-responsiblity, and what is needed to make success happen.
Interdis Educ

The new book Designing Interdisciplinary Education serves as a foothold for interdisciplinary initiatives in higher education, whether it be programmes, minors, courses or extra-curriular activities. Available from Amsterdam University Press www.aup.nl.

Also the HKU University of Arts Utrecht supports the students in customising their Master programme. The programme offers the students many choices to collaborate with talented fellow students from other disciplines and backgrounds, to create links between creativity, technology, entrepreneurship and connect to the contexts of health, smart living, circular economy, etc. Because student numbers are relatively low, they are able to apply a personal approach and search for a best fit between each student and coach for the full duration of their Master study (www.hku.nl/crossovercreativity).

Small numbers

I wondered how I would be able to transform these insights for the benefit of my students? Also they have sometimes difficulty in tailoring, planning and controlling their study programme. And since we explore ways to increase freedom and choice in our future Master’s, the need for guidance will increase.

In the 12 workshops of the conference, universities of Amsterdam, Delft, Leiden, Leuven, Maastricht, Tilburg, Twente, Utrecht, Wageningen demonstrated and discussed many experiments and pilots in relation to interdisciplinary education: How to develop adaptive skills? How to integrate different backgrounds? How to contextualise academic knowledge? What are the pros and cons of team teaching? How to assess interdisciplinary competences? How to get students in engineering and natural sciences interested in subjects from the humanities and social sciences?  I heard interesting ideas, concepts and experiments. Many try-outs in interdisciplinary education take place on a relatively small scale of minors, honours programmes, courses or projects with typically 25 students and a limited number of staff. They all require a strong training for open-mindedness.

The scaling up of these experiments to a full-blown practice of cohorts in the programmes that I am responsible for, with typically 400 engineering students and dozens of discipline-specific staff, would still be a big challenge. And I wonder if more traditional universities, like my home university, will be able to transform in not too a distant future, and teach interdisciplinarity without being highly interdisciplinary themselves. The heterogeneous perspectives of the students and colleagues from different faculties offer rich opportunities. But the many different faculty- and discipline-specific habits, rules and regulations that are all born in the fifties or earlier, will take lots of energy and time to make change happen. The best breeding places for interdisciplinary education at TU Delft are the hubs I addressed in my previous post about interdisciplinarity.

The concluding panel session addressed the challenges about team teaching by staff from different academic tribes and the cost-to-benefit ratio because interdisciplinary teaching usually demands more intensive guidance and control of students and staff. The panel expressed the wish to get a better grasp of interdisciplinary education, to make it more evidence based, by stimulating action research (self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participants to improve the rationality and justice of own practice and their understanding of these practices). But it is unfortunate that most of today’s grants  are allocated to field-specific disciplines. This applies to engineering sciences research as well as engineering education research. PhD procedures, high-ranked awards or peer-reviewed journals are hardly available yet for interdisciplinary fields. Also here we need to make a paradigm shift happen. The majority of the conference participants expressed the wish to develop and produce dedicated (elective) modules about Interdisciplinary Teaching as part of the University Teaching Qualification training in the Netherlands. Opening the instructor’s mind for interdisciplinary learning should form be an important part of such module.

3TU v1The gap in experience and knowledge between disciplinary and interdisciplinary engineering education is the reason why the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education has chosen interdisciplinary engineering education as one of the main themes for the coming years. The four Dutch technical universities will collaborate to:

  • develop a framework that can help (re)design interdisciplinary education;
  • develop guidelines for the assessment of interdisciplinary skills;
  • support teachers in achieving interdisciplinary goals with a team of disciplinary specialists;
  • look for ways to strengthen the connection between mathematics and physics with engineering.

NIEC 2018

The second National Interdisciplinary Education Conference will be held in 2018. Where you and I can deliberate further about questions what the most essential aspects of interdisciplinary education are, and what developments will affect the future of interdisciplinary education most. The 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education has already expressed its interest to organise this next event.

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Interdisciplinary education: a wave of the future?

interdisciplinary-crayonsAlso at my university, though rigidly organised in disciplinary silos and producing disciplinary programmes, I hear the buzzwords “multidisciplinarity” and “interdisciplinarity” almost every day. Obviously there is a shift of interest towards exploring questions and solving problems that cross borders and engage with experts from multiple fields.  Quite some universities in Europe, the Americas and Asia make even bigger steps. They develop “liberal engineering” study programmes with the aim to bring broader education with more holistic thinking and societal context to engineering students.

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Labs and makerspaces create a sense of belonging and bring students face-to-face with engineering practice


At the festive opening of the new and renovated Aerospace Structures and Materials Lab at TU Delft Faculty of Aerospace Engineering 27th January 2017, I presented my viewpoint that educating the next generation of aerospace engineers should address more skills that are gaining prominence in future engineering practice, and that the renovated and new labs provide excellent opportunities for their learning and teaching. 

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A Rapidly Changing World: time already for a 3rd revised edition of my book?

A brief post with a humorous undertow.

In June I published the Second Revised Edition of my book “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World“. On page 22 I included the disclaimer “What we do know is that tomorrow’s world will be an intense VUCA world… great advances are unpredictable, future scenarios thus full of uncertainty. We might miss a next revolution…..”

I had not expected that in less than seven months after its publication I already had missed the first revolution. Continue reading

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You can always write blogposts, but not always make memories

This morning I was engaged in drafting a blogpost about the role  of labs and makerspaces in our engineering education. Until my son and daughter came to me with the best proposal this Sunday: “Let’s see where we can skate”. Since we are living in the Green Heart of Holland, in a former swamp, we have a very green landscape which is rich in undeep waterways that freeze easily. In former times many of these waterways were used by flat wide boats to transport the peat from the swamp area to the city of Amsterdam for heating. Today their main function is water management, to prevent the flooding of our deep polders. And when it starts freezing, they are the place to be if you like skating. Continue reading

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Educating engineers for a resource constrained future: do we understand what we are doing?

CDIO_coated_TM [Converted]_jpegHas it ever been different?

“Engineering Opportunities in a Resource Constrained Future”. When I read this theme of the CDIO European Regional Meeting at Trinity College Dublin on 12-13 January 2017 the very first time, I wondered: “Has it ever been different?” Have we ever had an age where we had an unlimited amount of resources in engineering or engineering education? In my keynote “Adapting engineering education to change” I therefore started with the question which resource constrains us most in higher engineering education. Is it the growing number or attitude of students, the number or capabilities of staff, or the facilities to accommodate all students or new pedagogies? In the end of course everything can be expressed in terms of money. But I believe the major constraining resource is TIME: the consensus is that we as engineering educators can’t keep up with the pace of change in engineering knowledge and methods,  the changing needs by our graduates, and the emerging technologies in education.

Do we understand what we are doing?

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Vision on TU Delft Aerospace Engineering Education 2020

A new Long-term Vision

Mid November 2016, my faculty of Aerospace Engineering published its long-term vision in the form of the online magazine “Long-term Vision of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering TU Delft 2016 – 2020: ‘It’s all about connections“. In this vision the (former) Dean, I as the Director of Education, and the departmental directors, theme organisers, project leaders and others address in personal interviews the question of how the faculty can make an optimum contribution to society at a time when everything is increasingly revolving around connections. Clipboard02

Since many of my blog followers have no affiliation with TU Delft but do share, I presume, my interest in the vision on engineering education, I have copied the full text about the Bachelor and Master Education into this blog post. A complementary vision on education, more specifically on Online Education, was established by my colleague Renee van de Watering and is available here. Continue reading

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An innovative educational framework that lies on your doorstep

Most curriculum innovations fail

As a board member of the Educational Leadership Course that is organised under the sponsorship of Erasmus University, TU Delft and University Leiden (LDE), I reviewed the application files of the 17 candidates for the course in 2017. An important component in these files is the plan for the individual education innovation project. These projects are supposed to be the “mental organiser” for the participants during the 1-year course. Reviewing the files I noticed that quite a number of innovation projects at the three universities are about an upgrading or restructuring of Bachelor or Master curricula. Each one will be a challenge, because we know that most curriculum innovations fail, don’t we..? Continue reading

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Preparing for change before it happens

“The chief characteristic of the modern world is the scope and speed of change” (Tony Blair)

Front cover 2nd Revised Edition

Last summer I published the 2nd revised edition of my vision on engineering education of the future. With this vision I call higher management, educational leaders, programme coordinators and lecturers  to dare look beyond their discipline specialisation at the ever faster changing outside world. We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and refuse to see that both technology and society are fundamentally reshaping the engineering profession.It is obvious that many curricula do not keep up with the changing needs of the job market, no matter whether it is the academic, industrial, or new ventures market.

We are proud of the reputation of the Delft engineers. They are internationally well known for their specialist knowledge, their ability to cooperate in the global world, and their open mind. We are strong in educating research scientists. We can be happy with the education we have, but we also have to think how future proof it is. Young engineering graduates often need stronger skills in for instance creative thinking, systems and holistic thinking, entrepreneurial behaviour, interdisciplinary thinking, and algorithmic thinking. These skills are gaining quickly in importance.

In the past thirty to forty years engineering education has become increasingly engineering science driven. That is a worldwide trend. Ideally speaking, the analytical approaches of engineering science and engineering practice should be balanced and stimulate each other in our education. The trend, however, is that the engineering science component has become much more important than engineering practice and design.This makes that graduates of engineering programmes are not always optimally prepared for their future job and may encounter problems in future when they have to adjust to the fast changes by lifelong learning.

Since 2013 I have immersed myself in the future developments of higher engineering education with a horizon of 2030, at programme level at the faculty of Aerospace Engineering, at institutional level, the four Dutch technical universities, and as a thought leader in the global CDIO network.

Welcome to my blog. My aim is to inform you at regular intervals about developments in higher engineering education and society, and events in my neighbourhood that strike, inspire and fascinate me, and keep me busy in my rethinking of engineering education. Probably they will keep me more than busy, because I expect that we may have to change engineering education more profoundly and rapidly than we have done over the past 40 years.

I hope you will also enjoy the photos I have taken of beautiful sceneries that I will randomly change in the header of my blog.

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