My “A” in STEAM is all about street theatre

Reading my blogs and reports, you have maybe got the impression that the development in engineering education is the most important think in my universe. I cannot deny this subject has kept me quite busy since 2014 when I started my orientation and vision development about engineering education in 2030. It has been the focus of my work and has taken quite some leisure time as well.

A show about creatures of Salvador Dali at our festival June 17

I reassure you there is more in my life than this future of engineering education with its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) alone. In my leisure time I use arts to spark my imagination and creativity. Occasionally by painting. More intensively by organising an annual street theatre festivalwith 15 to 20 troupes of national and international street artists, street musicians, stilt walkers, puppetry and living statues. Mixed with about 10 troupes of local artists such as musicians, singers, choirs, and more than 200 young jazz and ballet dancers.

STEM vs STEAM

Every now and then I hear people say STEM in engineering education is not enough. We have to add Arts into the mix to make STEAM. The “A” in STEAM would not simply mean adding art subjects, but applying creative thinking to STEM projects, and sparking students’ imagination and creativity through arts.

It is exactly the creativity and improvisation of the street performers that spark my imagination. And it is probably my engineering skill of analytical thinking and logical reasoning that enables me to connect the many dots into a full-day programme with about 70 performances. Where the challenge is distributing the fun factor over time across the five spots in the relatively small town and shopping centre with minimum interference.

Why street theatre?

Street theatre is meant for everybody, of all ages, of and from all layers of the population. People who might not have ever been to, or been able to afford to go to, the “legitimate” theatre come and watch street shows. It’s a form of theatre that appeals to a broad public. I find it fascinating how artists are capable attracting people’s attention with minimum equipment and facilities.

What a difference it is compared to academics and engineering students! The artists give attention to their costume, make-up, character, music, songs, magic tricks, acrobatics, juggling. Everything is real, not virtual. Anything goes when it comes to attracting peoples attention. For many the basic principle is to respond to the public’s reactions. They have to keep the attention focused on their performance, because “zapping” is the common behaviour in the street. It is so different from the engineering way of thinking.

Teamwork

After a year of preparation it’s time to enjoy the performances of the artists, also for me as one of the organisers.

Selecting the artists is time demanding. Each year 300-400 artists express their interest to perform at our festival by sending emails with proposals and youtube videos to our website. Our team of six enthusiastic volunteers has an extremely high Do-It-Yourself mentality. We do all business in direct contact with the artists, and screen all shows individualy. The diversity of our team members, a receptionist in interim management, a journalist, two primary school teachers, a quality controller in audiovisual equipment, and a university director of education assures we select performers that appeal each year a broad group of spectatoors of more than 5000 spectators each year, in a small town that has approximately 20,000 inhabitants and is centrally located between the cities Amsterdam and Utrecht.

The devil is in the details, and the weather conditions

Noah Chorny performs in his role of a drunken MastER at our festival June 17

Selecting and communicating with the professional artists is important but not the single job to be done. Sponsoring, logistics, permits, safety,  road closures, catering, public relations with local and regional newspapers, radio and television, the website, twitter (Theaterdrv) and Facebook (Straattheaterfestival De Ronde Venen), and not to be forgotten a bit of engineering for power and sound equipment. (Sorry it’s all in Dutch, but the fun and engagement at the festival is international).

The only uncontrolable factor is the weather. We have no back-up for bad weather conditions. The street is the venu3 and stage for the artists. In the past 15 years I have been in the lead of the festival,we have been very fortunate: Each time the festival takes place, a high-pressure area develops in our town with sun shine and thousands of happy smiling people.

And so it happened Saturday 17 June 2017 once again, celebrating the 25th edition of the festival. The culmination of a year hard work. Thousands of laughing faces, joy and engagement. These simple things make me happy. They let me forget all the hard work of preparation. And they also help me renewing the energy for the thinking about the  roadmap for engineering education till 2030.

 

 

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A workshop about worldwide innovations in engineering education. Be inspired or confused.

What if 86% of the employers in your country would say they have difficulty in recruiting people with the right skills? You think it is unrealistic? It is not. A recent study (2016-2017) about talent shortage  by ManpowerGroup shows that 86 % of the employers in Japan are screaming for young people with more talents and better competencies. It’s a value that applies to the complete job market, from nurses and brick-layers, engineers and lawyers. Maybe you say “That’s Japan. It’s much better in my country.” You are probably right. But still, the ManpowerGroup study shows that the global average of talent shortage is 40%. Hong Kong scores 69%, Singapore 51%, the US 46 %, Australia 38%, most West European countries between 20 and 30% range, the Netherlands 17%, and China is in an outlier position at a remarkable 10%. Blue-collar workers are the hardest to find, directly followed by IT Developers and Programmers (second position), sales representatives (third) and Mechanical, Electrical and Civil Engineers (fourth). The difficulty is caused, ManpowerGroup says, because young people have insufficient levels of technical and workplace competencies.

My workshop at Lehigh University

I just read the above report before I produced the workshop at the Global E3 Annual Meeting, about “Worldwide perspectives of adapting engineering education to change”. I wondered how engineering schools over the globe expect their educational programmes to change in the next 10 to 15 years to optimally prepare the graduates for a career,  or exploit innovative pedagogy or emerging technologies in education. Would the workshop reveal any difference between the European, North-American, Asian and Pacific regions in approaches or strategies to enhance employability of their graduates?

I had made the atmosphere of the workshop engaging and for some of the presenters a bit nerve-wracking. I had invited three universities from Europe, three from US, two from Asia and one from Australia to prepare a presentation in PechaKucha format about any expected change in education at their institute. For those who are not familiar with PechaKucha: each presentation equals exactly 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide including breathing time, where slides advance automatically and the presenter talks along to the slides.

The presenters showed their private ideas and expectations from their own perspective. Because they had, on purpose, not coordinated the subject matter, the presentations addressed a wide spectrum of topics. This blog post is my private interpretation of the nine enthusiastic presentations by my colleagues in the Global E3 network, and the discussion afterwards.

The nine universities were:

  • Europe: DTU (Denmark); INSA Lyon (France), Lund University (Sweden);
  • US: University of Michigan, Franklin Olin College, Lehigh University;
  • Asia: City University of Hong Kong and HK Polytechnic University;
  • Australia: University of Newcastle.

Common concerns and expectations in every region

More active learning, more authentic design and research projects with a clear purpose, more industrial and societal engagement, more open-ended and unstructured problem definition and solving, more programming, more opportunities for multidisciplinary learning, more focus on agility, fostering team work competences and student independence, enterprise education, and increasing interest in mobility and intercultural collaboration. These are the topics mentioned by almost all nine universities in the workshop as a direction for the near future. The presenters explained their universities are preparing their staff, organisation and institution for expected change in technology, society and pedagogy.

I found it noteworthy that online education was not the headline of any presentation. It was addressed multiple times but not considered to cause a big disruption because, some of the presenters explained, it is solitary, self-paced and too much assessment oriented. Students miss the human interaction in e-learning. They need the campus to meet, feel a sense of belonging and want to have one-on-one discussions with experts and peers. Universities in all regions mentioned blended learning as an interesting development  that could enable fewer lectures but faster assessment and intensive feedback.

The workshop made it crystal clear that none of the universities remains static. Each university is innovating its engineering education, or at least thinking about it. But not about the same topics. In the end I was not able to relate the topics that were addressed, directly to employability.

Different emphasis per region

In a general sense, my observation is that (with a sample of nine universities the evidence is anecdotal indeed) the Asian universities are rapidly breaking with the traditional lecturing formats. They transform their teaching to more active teaching formats in small groups that have been developed in the past decades mainly in the US and Europe, such as project education, project-based learning, video tutorials, video instruction followed by project-based learning, flipped classrooms, e-learning modules for mathematics. The Australian and European universities anticipate to change but seem risk averse, doubt about change in direction with great caution and therefore evolve slowly. All three North-American universities are entrepreneurial, take risks, do continuous discovery and experiment with new teaching and assessment methods and new curricular structures all the time.

An integrated approach to become an Engineer at INSA Lyon (source: Marie-Pierre Favre, INSA Lyon)

Asia

The two Asian universities see their main focus in expanding existing or building new university networks in order to develop into leading global universities, primarily by the establishment of large numbers of double and joint degree programmes with international institutes, strong international industrial partner networks, alumni networks and communities of web-based educational resource users.

Australia

The Australian presentation elaborated on the role of the campus and the university as an institute. “What Value-Add will we, unis/academics, provide in future?” Academics will no longer be the owners of knowledge.

“What makes it Engineering, if the trend is that everything Real becomes Virtual and Simulated?” (quote Bill McBride, Newcastle)

The Australian university has high expectations of increased flexibility and freedom for students in their programmes. They anticipate to or have already constructed multiple elective pathways for their engineering students that enable personalised paths within their main discipline, about Science, Creative Industries, Health, Business & Legal Studies, etc. They anticipate to flexible programmes in order to enable students to gather micro-credentials or multiple mono-degrees instead of a single monodisciplinary degree, as a matter of the Do-It-Yourself ethic of the millennial generation.

Europe

The three European universities fiercely stand for their disciplinary programmes and move slowly. Their interest is growing to better connect engineering education to humanities and social sciences, develop cross-disciplinary tracks, and involve local authorities and industries, as shown for instance by initiatives at INSA Lyon to educate the Renaissance Engineer through a competency-based approach. Lund University focuses on educational change through institutional development: Senior teaching staff has to sharpen their teaching skills by about 30 hours effort per year. They enhance teacher’s motivation by rewarding excellent teaching practitioners, and build communities of practice in which teachers are stimulated to build up external  networks to provide crucial new input to set new norms and confine their freedom. They expect that the developments in pedagogy and emerging technologies in education will lead to more self-directed learning, with increasing needs for coaching and advising skills by the teaching staff.

“University today is a physical store selling information. Why has this model not been disrupted already?” (quote Andreas Barentzen, DTU)

DTU elaborated on the pro’s and cons of online education. Their vision is to use technology mainly as an enabler to increase face time and have faster and better assessments. However, students have to get used to it and this requires much effort in advising and coaching, and the creation of opportunities to learn from their peers. They also stress the importance of programming as the common language for all engineers in the decades to come.

“Code is the most concise way to instruct a computer, yet people go to surprising lengths to avoid it.” (quote Andreas Barentzen, DTU)

North America

Undoubtedly the presentations of the three North-American universities demonstrated their staff and organisation have the most entrepreneurial minds. They seem to do continuous discovery, don’t hesitate to experiment with new pedagogy or unknown assessment approaches, and innovate their programmes seemingly continuously. The American degree programmes increasingly involve societal and industrial partners, with students and stakeholders from a wide range of disciplines, sponsors and organisations. The universities develop Creative Spaces and Living Labs, with the M-City with automated vehicles, repositionable obstacles and movable building facades and mechanised pedestrians as a nice example at the Michigan University. That university started a campus-wide overhaul of their STEM education in 2014, to change the culture and make evidence-based scholarly teaching the new norm, replacing the longstanding reliance on tradition. The main elements of the curricular change are addressing the uncertain factor in engineering and design throughout the curricula, engineering ethics, interdisciplinary education with hands-on technical and professional skills workshops, community engagement, technology engagement, and diversity, equity and inclusiveness.

Engineering Education 20.20 (source: presentation Engineering Education 20.20 by Khanjan Mehta, Lehigh University)

Lehigh mentioned that they will shift competence-based education from the mastery of skillsets to mindsets. STEM is such a mindset: using scientific methods, problem-solving, quantification skills, following evidence-based, data-driven, systems approaches. Please read my previous post to learn much more about initiatives and implementations at Lehigh University.

From all universities in my workshop, Olin College was undoubtedly the most innovative. Its vision is “to lead the transformation of undergraduate engineering education”. They are in the business of looking toward the future of engineering education all the time and position themselves as change agents. They are developing educational transformations with experts and collaborators all over the globe. They are working on many issues, such as Quantitative Engineering Analysis (“If you want to engineer effectively, you must be able to choose and use appropriate quantitative approaches for a given situation”), Integrated Science (where chemistry, biology, materials science, and arts, humanities and social sciences are brought intensely together), the articulation of common learning outcomes about considering context, prioritising sustainability, communicating effectively, collaborating effectively, and becoming self-directed learners. These learning outcomes will be integrated through courses all across the curriculum and thus provide  a holistic approach to problem solving. Olin is also re-evaluating its assessment approaches by experiments where students get feedback rather than a summative mark at the end of a course. And they experiment with assessment by “Constructive Engagement” where the level of professionalism and the acting like a self-directed grown-up is measured per student. Last but not least I want to mention Olin’s recent change in reappointment and promotion structure, where they eschew the standard “teaching, research, service” in favour of “developing students, external impact, and building and sustaining the college”.

Web-based Team-Based Learning at NTU

Although NTU was not part of my workshop, they brought another interesting and well-defined learning sequence forward that focuses on team interaction and accountability. They provide preparatory materials in the form of video tutorials, slides, book chapters, that are published online about 1-2 weeks in advance. Then they take an Individual Readiness Assurance, which is an online individual multiple-choice assessment that samples the materials broadly to assure students have gone through the preparatory materials . That assessment is followed by a Team Readiness Assurance, which is a repetition of the individual exam but this time the students are allowed to discuss and decide on an answer in teams of six. An online tool provides immediate feedback and the teams are allowed to discuss and try again if they got the answers wrong on an earlier trial. to conclude and consolidate the knowledge and understanding the students apply the theory in a project team where they dwell on deeper understanding in terms of application.

Epilogue

The workshop yielded an interesting landscape of  changes, concepts, implementations, ideas. I hope the post has inspired you to rethink the traditions and habits in your lecturing, tutoring or supervision. Possibly you can use any of the ideas to future-proof your own education, and I am sure the presenters are more than happy to discuss with you their experiences or elaborate your ideas.


Acknowledgements

In this blog post I have made use of the presentations in the workshop at the Global E3 2017 Annual Meeting at Lehigh University, as well as the discussion afterwards.  The slides will soon be made available here.

A big thank you for all presenters for their valuable insights and ideas they have shown and discussed at the workshop:

Min Xie (City University of Hong Kong), Kin-Man Lam (Hong Kong Polytechnic University), Bill McBride (University of Newcastle), Andreas Baerentzen (Technical University of Denmark), Marie-Pierre Favre (INSA Lyon), Per Warfinge (LUnd University), Alison Wood (Oline College of Engineering), Khanjan Mehta (Lehigh University), Greg Hulbert (University of Michigan).

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Different ways to include Global Engineering Preparedness and Entrepreneurial Mindset Learning in engineering programmes

In my role of the TU Delft academic liaison for the Global E3 university network I attended the Global E3 Annual Meeting in Bethlehem (US) 22-26 May. This city is home to Bethlehem Steel, famous for its historic huge steel ovens and factories that were closed in 1995 and are now a cultural heritage and arts and music venue.

The impressive Bethlehem Steel plant, now a cultural heritage and arts and music venue

The Global E3 consortium is a network of 72 universities, 33 US and 39 non-US. Its mission is to stimulate the exchange of students between US and non-US countries in particular. Not seldom the relations within the network form the basis for bilateral agreements for exchange between universities.

At the annual meeting the universities discuss operational and strategic issues related to influencing engineering students and programmes to accommodate student exchange. Each year parts of the meeting are spent to somewhat boring but important administrative issues like grade conversion, equivalence of courses, conflicts of curricular schedules and safety on campus. This year the theme of the conference was “Innovation in Engineering”. The Lehigh University, host of the event, and other universities in the network shared their ideas, experiments and successful implementations of shifts in pedagogy, technologies for global engagement, integrative projects and interdisciplinary multi-cultural programmes.

The Lehigh University

Lehigh University was quite unknown to me. It’s a private university with about 7000 students and renowned for its wide-ranging interdisciplinary programmes. They provide high levels of freedom and flexibility in their curricula to ensure students can pursue their individual fields of interests and ambitions. The programmes seem to me an excellent place for students who seek to create their own paths and aim for the challenge to converge perspectives in engineering sciences, business, arts and humanities.

In the following you’ll read my personal impressions of this 3-day meeting.

Going abroad: what does it bring our students?

The first day I attended the workshop “Cross-institutional perspectives in engineering”. In this workshop the research team of University of Pittsburgh, Lehigh University, University of Southern California and Clemson University presented a study that assessed the impact of international (education) experiences on the global competency and preparedness of students across 13 representative engineering programmes in the US. Although the study has an American perspective, I would expect many outcomes also apply to the European situation. The purpose was to get evidence about the different ways that global preparedness can be developed both in and outside formal curricula, to better understand how each approach enhances the students’ global awareness, preparedness and competencies, and to measure the impact certain experiences abroad have on engineering students.

“Mobility increases the opportunities but comes with cultural challenges” (quote Bart Reijnen, TU Delft Alumnus of the Year 2017)

The team had developed an operational model with four categories of learning outcomes for the readiness to engage and effectively operate under uncertainty in different cultural aspects and address engineering problems:

  • International contextual knowledge,
  • Personal and professional qualities,
  • Engineering global preparedness,
  • Cross-cultural communication skills and strategies.

They flowed these outcomes down into numerous attributes as shown in the diagram below and correlated each of these attributes with student experiences abroad prior to and during the study.

Source: presentation at the 2017 Annual Meeting Global E3 “Assessing the Spectrum of International Undergraduate Engineering Educational Experiences” by Mary Besterfield-Sacre, University of Pittsburgh.

The analysis shows that students acquire high learning gains when they experience social risk taking but work through it constructively, especially when they work in cross-cultural teams. The highest scores of global competencies are obtained by students from families where parents have followed higher education. Personal tourism is important in building global perspectives. As we may expect, the exposure to international experiences throughout student’s life, both prior to and during study, determines the level of attainment. Parental education, background and experience are important factors. And so are the duration and number of experiences, and the comfort zone while abroad. Key in all this is the amount of reflection during and after the experience. So-called packing and unpacking activities prior to respectively after the stay abroad turns out to be extremely important. Also in the world of engineering practice reflections are the most important stepping stones to build upon in future, Kathleen Taylor of Johnson & Johnson told us in her keynote. Various universities mentioned they use of existing online tools for self-reflection on global competencies.

Many questions have not yet been answered and may be subject to a follow-up study. What is the impact of an international experience  on the mastery of disciplinary knowledge? Can international experiences be connected to career perspectives? Does an encounter with multiple stakeholders abroad have an impact on the empathy of the student? To what extent are the international networks that are built up during a stay abroad, still relevant for the current generation of students? An interesting question, because even without a study abroad most students have a rich international network already through the social media at young age. Another important question that has not yet been answered is about the global competencies employers are looking for in relation to specific professional profiles and career horizons.

Going abroad

I have the impression that for European engineering students studying abroad is pretty much common practice. In the US many students still hesitate for mainly practical reasons: the high tuition fee in the US, incompatible schedules, unclear equivalence of courses, more stringent grading in Europe, higher daily living cost. This explains why many initiatives exist to stimulate US students to study abroad, and vice versa, to attract more non-US students to the US in order to import internationalisation on campus.

Daniel Kramer, Director of US Student Programs at the Institute of International Education (IIE), mentioned four factors that rapidly change the awareness of the added value of global competences with US engineering students:

  • The growing numbers of students at universities, both national and international, which increases competition for graduates on the job market.
  • The industries give clear messages that they aim for diversity and broadly developed talents of their employees. The race for talent in recruitment is global, and industries increasingly hire international teams. Keynote speaker Kathleen Taylor of Johnson & Johnson mentioned the positive impact of 3 to 6 month immersive experiences abroad while meeting and collaborating with locals.
  • Many universities adapt their curricular programmes worldwide to better facilitate study abroad experiences for their students. Brad Hall of the University of New South Wales in Sydney gave the example of their experimental change in curriculum schedules into four periods to better match European schedules, with the aim to enhance exchange opportunities.
  • Universities are involved in a growing number of international partnerships.

The sessions of the meeting showed a broad spectrum of study-abroad opportunities. In Global Engineering Minors universities produce engineering cornerstone courses that are merged with humanities and social sciences to learn about the self and the foreign culture. I heard about customised 6-week Summer Programmes, where students study engineering courses abroad, nearly always in combination with foreign language, history, culture or humanity courses. I heard about the engineering or research projects where students go abroad and intermingle with local students or local citizens. And there are initiatives of research-oriented study abroad formats in US, Asia and Europe.

Some of the US universities offer scholarships up to $5000 to compensate for travel and higher subsistence cost abroad. Or they pay students $500 to write a weblog while being abroad. Or provide credits to students who publish 30-second vlogs about their stay abroad. They are all stimuli to get American students on the move.

An overview by the Global E3 Administration showed that engineering students go significantly more abroad than ever before and more than any other group of students. Questions raised whether the recent change in US policy towards immigrants might have adverse effects on the exchange of students in the next years. All US staff stressed that their message has not changed: foreign students are more than welcome to join a  study abroad period in the US. They find it important to enhance diversity on campus and also look for opportunities for US students to study abroad (also aiming for some level of balance between incoming and outgoing students). Last year more than 90% of all international students in the network who wanted to be placed in American universities were successfully placed. However, students cannot always be placed at their first preference institute. There was a loud call to stimulate students to orientate towards lesser-known universities. These also provide excellent exchange opportunities in an intercultural setting with interesting engineering courses, projects and events.

 Going beyond the traditional classroom

I already mentioned that Lehigh University is renowned for its wide-ranging interdisciplinary programmes. What struck me most in the session about Lehigh Engineering Interdisciplinary Programs was the entrepreneurial spirit of many academic staff members of developing innovative and experimental educational environments. I give some highlights that were discussed and offer interesting opportunities for guest students.

Bill Best, professor Electrical and Computer Engineering at Lehigh explained that the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences (IDEAS) programme is all about “the passion to integrate”. The 4-year programme “cultivates liberally educated and technologically sophisticated individuals whose habits of thought are thoroughly, comfortably interdisciplinary”. The programme is not accredited but this is irrelevant for its success. Students enrol not to increase their GPA, but to do what matters and learn what they want to learn. Students have great freedom of choice to establish individualised study programmes that are tailored to personal interests and ambitions. To bridge disciplines, communication is always very important. Each study is shaped around three principle questions “What do you want to learn?”, “Where do you want to do it?”,  “If abroad, when do you want to leave?” A mosaic of technical, business and management courses and research or design projects is turned into a coherent set of knowledge packages through one-to-one consultation with enthusiastic staff advisors. This ensures each individual programme has the added value for a future career in engineering with an entrepreneurial dimension.

The Lehigh University Center

Another 4-year Integrated Business and Engineering programme prepares to leadership roles in industrial research and development and innovative technologies. Students enrol each year in personalised study programmes that consist of engineering sciences and business sciences. They work on interdisciplinary design projects in an international context that require engineering and business problem solving. A two-semester capstone design project focuses on team-based product, process and system design development in an international engineering business context.

The Computer Sciences and Business programme is a four-year joint-degree programme. It combines courses from both the computer sciences and business sciences programmes in combination with special integrative courses and projects where local and foreign students collaborate with teams of corporate sponsors.

The above programmes differ from the regular disciplinary programmes we are used to in Europe, and to most engineering programmes in the US. Graduates of  these interdisciplinary and intercultural programmes are highly wanted because they have proven to master engineering and business and management skills. Graduates have learnt how to get things done in the right and rigorous way.

It confirms the statement of industrial keynote speaker Kathleen Taylor. She stressed that people can only develop leadership skills by immersing in uncertain and unexpected environments. Her motto was “Step away from what you know.” In the practice of engineering and design, technology is only about 50% of the work. Having a new product accepted by the customer, successfully produced and marketed requires another 50%. Employers for graduates of these programmes are consulting firms, risk management firms, companies in forensic engineering and computer auditing. Also large industrial multinationals such as General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Boeing score high.

Solving problems that matter

A unique programme is the Lehigh Mountaintop programme, a 5-week intensive interdisciplinary project for non-traditional students from all disciplines, engineering and non-engineering, national and international students. The project demands 24/7 non-stop thinking and action and radical ownership. Each project, originating from students, academic staff or companies, is about real meaningful subjects and centred around creativity, connections and creating value. The enthusiastic programme director Khanjan Mehta explained in an energising speech that all projects that run simultaneously, address the full spectrum of questions from “is it affordable”, “does it address a real need?”, “does it look sexy?”, “will it hurt environment?”, “will the product or service reach the end-user?”, “can you scale it up”? and so on.

Impact is all what matters. The credo is “First Do, Then Learn”. The projects are executed in a big hall, a creative space comparable to the TU Delft student’s DREAM Hall. Khanjan explained that the space acts as a magnet on the campus for staff, sponsoring companies and students while the projects are running. Many people meet and intermingle with the teams, from different backgrounds, disciplines, regions or countries, which results in interesting spin-offs for students, staff and university. Successes are celebrated and failures are shared to learn from. This year 15 projects had been selected out of a 50 submitted proposals. The single criterion for selection is the challenge of a new intellectual dive.

The Mountaintop Creative Space where each year approximately 15 projects are developed and prototyped and meetings take place between students, staff and sponsoring companies.

I am fascinated by the concept. Although the environment in my home university is very much different from Lehigh, I feel it might be possible to copy the interdisciplinary and intercultural DIY (Do It Yourself) concept and import  an appealing and valuable elective module of about 15 EC (European Credits) into Master degree programmes. By collaborating with universities that offer liberal arts and social sciences programmes it must be possible to include broad and creative thinking about the many aspects of these projects. In our case we would have these partner universities within reach in the Global E3 network or in the direct neighbourhood of Delft, such as the Leiden University or Erasmus University Rotterdam.

 “A failure is no failure anymore when you have shared it” (Khanjan Mehta)

 Global classrooms: a model for virtual exchange

The meeting also addressed so-called virtual exchange opportunities. It is an approach where the external world is imported into interdisciplinary courses or projects in the classroom. I saw small-scale examples where discussions or assignments were shared between teams of students at home and at a partner institute. Another example was a research project by two partner universities that was completely run asynchronously due to a 9-hour difference in time zones. Students from one partner institute had to collect information about environmental conditons or traffic digestion that was specified by students of the partner university. They also got the assignment to process the data and report and present the analysis results back. Obviously the key issues were a good communication of formats, the specification of information, and the reporting of the analysis. Writing a data collection plan by students of institute 1 that was reviewed by students of institute 2; writing a data analysis plan by students of institute 2 that had to be reviewed and agreed upon by students of partner 1. Such collaborative efforts increase students awareness of intercultural communication and the different ways of working in different countries.

Interestingly, experiences in these projects showed that a difference in disciplinary perspective was often more important than a difference in culture. The question raised what impact such international collaborative experiences had on student motivation, study abroad interest in later years of study, and prospective career paths. No evidence was available. The presenters also made it very clear that staff is not always prepared to step up in such undertakings when the evidence of impact is uncertain, while it is very clear that there is a substantial extra effort for the staff.

 Success is all about commitment and communication

Key enablers for all these types of projects remain a commitment of faculty staff and  the willingness to collaborate, as well as curiosity and resilience of the students involved. From the discussions I learnt that any effort that is spent on arranging access to  a common digital learning environments is often a waste of time. Today’s students have their own ways to communicate and collaborate: Google docs, Dropbox, Skype, Facebook etcetera are much more favourite than file sharing through electronic learning environments of Blackboard, Canvas or Brightspace.

I found it also remarkable to hear, that also in today’s hyper-connected world, success in distributed project work (more than one location) highly depends on a one-time face-to-face meeting with the project team members of the host and guest institutes, for students as well as staff. Face-to-face contact remains by far the best way to take away barriers in communication and creates a level of personal trust relation that cannot be achieved by whatever social media or e-moderation in online discussions. Indeed, engineering has always been and will remain a very social activity, and we often seem to forget.

Epilogue

On my way to Bethlehem (Pennsylvania) I had not expected the 2017 Annual Meeting of Global E3 would resonate with so many experimental and implemented innovations in engineering education that touch upon so many aspects that I address in the chapter “More than just cool technologies” in the second revised edition of my report “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World”. Future engineering education is about interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial mind-set learning, intercultural collaboration, global preparedness, mobility, diversity-in-thought, freedom of choice, the Do It Yourself approach, the importance of non-verbal communication, agility, reflection in packing and unpacking activities, and the remaining importance of face-to-face communication.

The sessions have given me new insights how we may accommdate more flexibility and freedom of choice in our engineering programmes in Delft. Flexibility and freedom that students can use to study abroad or to join interdisciplinary design or research projects while staying at home or in a foreign country, in international collaboration, and always learning about the different disciplines, habits and cultures.

In a separate post I will address the outcomes of a workshop I held at the Global E3 Annual meeting. It addressed the (preparations for) expected changes in engineering programmes over the next 10 to 15 years, with input from three European,three North-American, two Asian and one Australian engineering university: “Worldwide Perspectives of Adapting Engineering Education to Change”. To be continued.

 

 

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If you can invent a second wheel, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel, do you?

“The guy who invented the first wheel must have been an idiot. The guy who invented the other three was a genius”.

Two wheelsReinventing wheels

This quote by Sid Caesar illustrates that (scientific) discoveries in technology need further development to raise their Technical Readiness Level (TRL) before it is ready for the industrial or consumer market. The quote underlines that it is often more effective and efficient to build upon available knowledge and combine available prototypes that have demonstrated their performance, i.e. inventing the other three wheels, than inventing new concepts from scratch, i.e. reinventing the wheel.

I know from personal experience in engineering education, we are keen in reinventing wheels. Often have we already the solution in mind before we have a full understanding of the problem. Which for instance leads to technocratic solutions for problems in study or teaching cultures that are not solvable by such solutions alone. I do not pretend I can change this “tradition” of working with this single blog post.

The wheels we already have in house: the Innovation Map

But I can show you what wheels we already have in house. It may be much better to use one of these wheels that does the job for 80% and has already a proof of evidence, and tailor that wheel to meet 100% of your needs. It enables you to invent the second wheel and stay away from reinventing the wheel. For this you need to know which wheel prototypes are already there.

3TU v1

The 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education, a collaboration between TU Delft, TU Eindhoven, University Twente and Wageningen University & Research about innovating engineering education for tomorrow’s engineer, have made an online map of more than 100 innovations in engineering education (status 11 May 2017). They have been developed by instructors, lecturers, tutors or researchers at the four research-intensive Dutch universities of technology.  In this so-called “Innovation Map” we have subdivided them in six categories of education innovation.

Screen print of Innovation Map

To pique your interest I give you some titles in the map:

  • “A pressure cooker – coaching framework for teaching soft skills in an engineering master’s programme”;
  • “How to utilize diversity for Excellence?”;
  • “Multidisciplinary course assessment with multiple assessors”;
  • “Underpinned scenarios and good practices for teacher coaching”;
  • “Boosting the Activity of Students In Contact hours”;
  • “Knowledge clips in the flipped classroom setting”;
  • “Blended learning in Technology Entrepreneurship”;
  • “Stimulating students to ask feedback”;
  • “Mind the Gap! Career compass”;
  • “Knowledge clips in the flipped classroom setting”.

Currently Interdisciplinary education has 25 entries; Blended learning & virtual labs 35; Dealing with diversity 26; Coaching engineering students 35; Sustainable and active education 62 and Future engineering skills 21. You can access, search and filter the innovations by key words. The Innovation Map gives you direct access to all tools, papers, tips and tricks, presentations, background information and the  coordinates of the colleague who knows the details and is willing to give you further advice.

We offer our help to share your knowledge and experiences

The Innovation Map is not one-way traffic. It also gives you the opportunity to inform colleagues about your  innovations. What we need is material that makes the innovation transferable, and evidence about the impact of the development. Please feel  free to contact your local coordinator here, and help enhancing engineering education.

 

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What trends and developments do 70 engineering deans in Europe care about most?

Deans of engineering programmes face a wide range of rapid developments. Interdisciplinary engineering research and education are gaining momentum. Yet, teachers and researchers are struggling with the boundaries that are created by departments and faculties, and current metrics for performance do not appraise interdisciplinary work. Universities are being confronted with large increases in number and diversity of their students, both in terms of culture and motivation. Yet, resources do not increase accordingly, and selection is not always accepted. There is the question to unbundle complete curricula to create dedicated knowledge packages instead for on-demand training. Emerging technologies are picked up for the support, production and assessment of courses. The societal digital transformation with the rise of MOOCs and other online education put the future of campus education in a new perspective.

Seventy deans of engineering faculties across Europe discussed these themes. It was one of the rare occasions where I sensed a shared urgency to change and a concern about a lack of willingness to change. “Universities are at risk; we are insufficiently engaged with the external world and focus too much internally; we have to make ourselves more resilient in order to survive; we need strong leadership” Jan Gulliksen, dean of School Computer Science and Communication at KTH said in his keynote.

European Convention of Engineering Deans / University Leaders Dialogue

Seventy deans and chief executive officers convened at the annual ECED (European Convention of Engineering Deans)/ ULD (University Leaders Dialogue) meeting in Munich on April 3 and 4, 2017. Technische Universitӓt München was the host of the meeting that was organised by CESAER (the Conference of European Schools for Advanced engineering Education and Research) and SEFI (the European Society for Engineering Education). My home university TU Delft was represented by Rector Magnificus prof. Karel Luyben, who is  also the President of CESAER, and Vice-Rector prof. Peter Wieringa. On behalf of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education (4TU.CEE) Perry den Brok from TU Eindhoven and I attended this conference.

The deans discussed the three major topics of research, education and governance. The first topic mainly dealt with how to support and appraise research that engages in interdisciplinary engineering, in a reality where metrics and other rewards are mainly gained via disciplinary systems. The third topic dealt with the type of leadership that is needed in universities to support new streams of research and innovations in education, especially in this age of high volatility and uncertainty. In this post I focus on the topic of education, although I do not want to detach it from the discussions about research and governance. Interesting youtube contributions from participating deans about research and education are available at the ECED 2017 website. A video from the BEST (Board of European Students in Technology), presented by Alexia Spyridonidou, gives an interesting insight in the priorities and expectations the young millennial generation has about their education and prospective career.

Participants of the ECED/ULD in Munich. Aldert Kamp and Perry den Brok from 4TU.CEE are on the left and front of the picture, see red arrow (Source: TU Munich)

Emerging themes and topics

A question that comes to mind is what topics or themes emerge across the universities of technology in Europe. What developments are going on and what type of initiatives do universities take? From the various speakers and contributions to ECED, the following topics came to the fore.

Crossing disciplinary boundaries

Much of today’s innovation requires a proper balance between deep disciplinary knowledge and broad working knowledge of the fundamentals of engineering sciences, humanities and social sciences, supplemented with personal and interpersonal skills. Research-intensive universities are skewed towards deep specialist knowledge and research. Most universities are organised along these lines. Excellence in research can only be achieved by publication scores that require specialism and depth. The dilemma between the horizontal (breadth) and vertical (depth) is being discussed everywhere, over and over again, also at this conference.

The vertical dimension is traditionally well organised and embedded. Its performance parameters can be easily measured and its values can demonstrate world class. The organisation of the horizontal dimension is still messy. Breadth cannot be measured that easily, whilst the need for the horizontal dimension in society is rapidly growing.

Many deans experience the transformation to research and education with more breadth as a tedious and dangerously slow process. The university organisations tend to gravitate back to their disciplinary silos that are so baked into the system that it will take an almighty alteration to deal it a serious blow. Appraisal cycles still award individual achievements by measuring individual performance of number and h-index of publications. Teaching is at risk for sure, because it is not a focus in any ranking management. Some fragments from the discussions: “If we do not make innovativeness and interdisciplinary collaboration an explicit part of the annual appraisal, it’s never going to happen”; “We get what we measure”; “Templates for recruiting academic staff are getting narrower and narrower, whilst we say in our policy documents that we aim for more diversity in cultures and backgrounds, including people from the non-academic world”. “To make change happen needs leadership by people who dare to take risks. It’s questionable whether we have such people onboard at the right organisational levels.”

Societal impact instead of individual achievements

Impact on society is mainly achieved by teamwork. We should therefore make the measuring and awarding of impact the new norm. But, the deans said, we miss a clear yard stick and instruments to do so. How can we measure graduates’ preparedness for the future? How can we measure the level of student innovativeness, or the real impact of commercialisation of research, or the value of innovation that can be attributed specifically to collaboration? Since we cannot measure and compare these impacts, it has become common practice to measure parameters that can be easily measured like headcounts, number of publications, h-index, number of start-ups, number of proposals. But these do not tell us anything about the real value of innovativeness of a university.

“We need to develop realistic teamwork, not heroic individuals”

The deans shared the viewpoint that creating impact on future society increasingly requires  interdisciplinary and holistic thinking. We cannot start early enough to awaken curiosity beyond our own discipline. We should not wait till the tenure or PhD trajectories, but already start the development of this mindset in the Bachelor’s and Master’s. “Remember, the biggest impact we have on society is the students we educate.”

T-shaped professionals

I heard a loud call from many deans to transform engineering education into educating T-shaped engineering professionals. These are people who have a deep working knowledge in their own discipline and have learnt to communicate and collaborate in teams with professionals from other domains and non-experts. I must acknowledge that I found the discussion about teaming T-shaped professionals a bit confusing. T-shaped professionals were said to be necessary to build teams as spoked wheels. They were said to collaborate with their broad communicative skills developed in the arm of the T, but can only converge their ideas through the deep disciplinary knowledge of maths, physics and engineering sciences, as acquired in the bar of specialisation of the T. I don’t know whether I completely agree. The spoked wheel is to me the metaphor for an interdisciplinary team.

The spoked wheel metaphor for an interdisciplinary team (interconnecting disciplines) and the gear wheel metaphor for a multidisciplinary team (connecting disciplines but doing their own thing)

A multidisciplinary team looks more as a gear wheel. These are teams where T-shaped professionals collaborate on the basis of their broad communicative skills and engineering fundamentals, but keep doing their own thing, solving problems and designing of solutions in their own discipline, sometimes touching upon the specialisms of other domains, possibly in other teams.

Interdisciplinarity

With the above in mind, more and more interdisciplinary courses, projects or curricula are being developed, often preceded by interdisciplinary research projects or groups. Interesting challenges that teachers face in such context are how to integrate different topics or domains, how to motivate students from different domains, and how to assess interdisciplinary tasks with teachers that are often experts in one domain.

Different engineering profiles

I noticed an emphasis on the fact that an engineering programme might consider to educate a range of engineers, with different professional profiles, for example the technology-oriented engineer, the society-oriented engineer, or the entrepreneurial engineer. This thinking matches well with the outcome of the 4TU.CEE “Free Spirits” Think Tank at TU Delft.  One unique engineering profile does no longer fit all students in a programme.

“Training soft skills has become an integral part of the engineering fundamentals, just like mathematics, physics and engineering sciences”.

Thus it was not surprising that the deans identified the need to personalise intended learning outcomes and accommodate individual learning paths by collaborative learning in multi- and interdisciplinary teams. The question rose how smart we are able to describe such intended learning outcomes and assess the soft and academic skills that will be the basis for the diversification of the professional engineering profiles.

Break-out session about the future of education (Source: TU Munich)

Students as change agents

A fundamental problem in universities is the level of conservatism. “We are not going to change our university in five years, not in 20 years either”. The deans said time has come that remaining static bears more risk than moving, even if it is not clear in which direction we should move. The emergence of Über-type universities is on the horizon.

The deans suggested that possibly students could make cultural change in universities happen. Student populations change typically every three years. The meeting stressed several times that we should try and give the students the opportunities to make disruptive changes in education by initiating and prioritising collaborative and interdisciplinary projects instead of enforcing them to take part in individual mono-disciplinary projects. Thus students  could become the driver for change. They might be in the position to bring professors to the future.

Many of today’s students in Northwest Europe have already got used to multidisciplinary and collaborative learning in their pre-university education. They have a mindset of co-creation, want to create the future and design solutions for societal relevant challenges. Millennial students do things differently. They are eager to develop cross-disciplinary projects and ideas by themselves. During our 4TU.CEE study trip to ETH-Zurich in March I had heard about a “Space for your ideas” project, in which students are stimulated to propose innovations in their education and help in the selection of best ideas. Of course, students will always need a mastermind to develop innovative curricula. Creating a new educational culture and freeing up space in curricula cannot be developed bottom-up alone.

In this context the deans emphasised the need to train the students an entrepreneurial mindset (see also my blogpost about Entrepreneurial Behaviour) and more adaptive capacity to get out on a limb for such cultural change.

Integration of skills in disciplinary curricula

Many engineering universities consider to transform the qualifications of their degree programmes into competence qualifications, and relate these to the curricular elements. They are struggling how to integrate the training and assessment of competences into their disciplinary curricula. Such competences include intercultural communication or collaboration, entrepreneurial behaviour, and  professional engineering skills, such as systems thinking, creativity and design thinking. These have to be embedded and should not be added as a cherry on top of the cake.

Specials hubs of excellence, or makerspaces have proven to be excellent breeding places for students to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams or hackathons, develop prototypes, or mentor start-ups. Students, professors and other academic staff, industrial experts, entrepreneurs and authorities feel attracted and meet and create an appealing place where students learn the many skills that are gaining importance in tomorrow’s world of work. The success of the Skylab (DTU, Copenhagen) has demonstrated that students stimulate each other to learn deep mathematics, engineering sciences, design and research skills and (inter)personal skills in a logical order and in a combined effort when the need is there. This is what Marianne Thellersen, Senior Vice President – Innovation & Entrepreneurship of DTU told us.

Makerspaces

Reading the above about hubs of excellence, it is not surprising that we observe a clear trend that many universities experiment with makerspaces and living labs, in which students collaborate in interdisciplinary teams on authentic complex challenging projects that are relevant for society. Learning in these spaces connects knowledge to life,  so that learning sticks better through emotional connection. Such makerspaces and living labs become “competence centres” where students take advantage of the physical spaces and the real-life interactions with customers, and interweave learning, doing research and learn about innovation (see also my blogpost about the role of labs and makerspaces in engineering education).

More in general, I see a clear trend towards more student-oriented education, with emphasis on deep learning, a range of opportunities for freedom of choice for the students, and student-centred teaching methods. Examples of maker spaces can be found at Aalborg and other Scandinavian universities. During a recent study trip in March 2017 by the 4TU.CEE board members to EPFL in Lausanne I encountered the interesting initiative of Discovery Learning.  The Discovery Learning Lab (DLL) makes experimental and manufacturing facilities available in one central building for all students and academic staff of any discipline. It creates excellent opportunities for interdisciplinary ideas and project work. In future it may simply not be possible to have equipment that cost many millions of euros in different places. Sharing them between faculties or universities make them affordable, and the increasing capabilities of data storage and data transfer make  this possible.

Societal and industrial engagement

Throughout the conference meeting I heard the call to include more societal and industrial engagement in engineering education and research. European universities feel relatively little urgency to make societal contributions. many universities may have to shift research even more than today, from curiosity-driven research to applied research. We have to put university knowledge more at the service of solving the major societal challenges.

“Students who have never been in contact with industry are not prepared for the world of work”. Universities become aware that they have to provide students experiential learning opportunities in which they collaborate with companies and authorities and learn from alumni and other role models. Such experiences may involve outreach, but also deal with guest visits or lectures, internships, participation in living labs, or specific professional development programmes. During the 4TU.CEE Swiss study trip I observed that EPFL attracts and locates big innovative companies on campus to join the ecosystem of innovation. If forms an excelent breeding place for workplace learning by the engineering students.

At the ECED conference TU Delft presented their plan to initiate an interdisciplinary student research project “Cool down the planet” that builds upon the initiatives and successes of the student-led D:DREAM student projects. In earlier conferences I also heard about initiatives for so-called citizen science projects, where citizens, possibly from all over the world, are involved in the collection of data on certain phenomena such as nature, health, safety, mobility.

The panel discussion about the outcomes of the 2016 convention in the London Agenda among other things proposed to treat students as young engineers already during their study, as a matter of lifelong learning. In engineering practice engineers learn from their senior colleagues. Why not incorporate this dimension in our teaching through peer instruction for and by students?

Also sabbaticals for academic staff were identified as interesting opportunities to import more societal and industrial engagement into the curriculum. Some of the deans expressed their concerns that the best academics might not return from their sabbaticals because of their exposure to a potentially more attractive work atmosphere in the external world…

Universities in 2040

Throughout the meetings the question was raised as to whether universities of technology would still exist in 2040, if they continue with their current education and rate of change. The conference made it more than clear that they will certainly be unable to do so in its current form. We have to expect major changes, not only in what and how we teach, but also how we offer our curricula as complete and coherent 2- or 3-year course packages, and what the physical make-up of the campus university has to be. More and more examples become already visible in which students demand partial programmes, compose their own knowledge packages, obtain certificates and degrees via a Do-It-Yourself approach in alternative study programmes. Graduates from these individually tailored programmes are expected to be favourite in the selection process by company recruiters. Universities have to look seriously ahead to the future, in particular in terms of the on-campus experiences they intend to provide.

Dinner in the Ratskeller of Munich (Source: TU Munich)

It was repeated many times that if we do not succeed in integrating innovation and interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration in the recruitment process of young academic staff or in the annual appraisal cycle, universities will loose ground and change is not going to happen.

Upon my return home my attention was drawn to a newsletter in the 16 April 2017 University World News Global Edition. The emergent and expanding direction for university education could become “competency-based” certification. It allows students to move as rapidly as they wish through a programme to acquire the competencies that are needed for a professional engineering profile. They can be attained without obligatory presence on campus. The newsletter mentions that “one such programme is already offered by the private company StraighterLine (“Online College Courses That Fit Into Your Degree”). It has a basic fee for mastering materials that are certified by third parties and acceptable for transfer to a number of traditionally accredited universities to be applied to a degree”. It does not have so many engineering or technology courses yet, but shows how rapid developments go. Über-type universities are already rising on the horizon. They accommodate the increasing demand for differentiation with tailored content.

ECED/ULD 2018

In 2018 the ECED/ULD will be held at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. The approximately 15 Munich Statements about Education, Research and Governance, that developed into the headlines at the convention in Munich and are partly addressed in this blog post, will be elaborated and developed into strategic actions for the university boards. These actions have to pave a way to more agile and future-proof universities.

CESAER Taskforce Scientific Engineering Education

CESAER, the organising body of the conference, also initiated a taskforce to formulate a vision on scientific engineering education as input to discussions about policy of higher education in the European Commission. At the conference the 4TU.CEE was invited to play an active role in this taskforce. A first meeting with the members of the taskforce is scheduled at TU Eindhoven on May 12, 2017.


This post is a more comprehensive and personalised version of the post that has been published on the weblog of 4TU Centre for Engineering Education by prof. Perry den Brok, who is my 4TU.CEE teammate from the Eindhoven University of Technology.

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Why entrepreneurial behaviour is a must for all young engineers

At some point in their careers, most, if not all engineers, will move to positions of technical or engineering leadership. That ranges from becoming a leader of a project team to a  leader of an entire technical enterprise. Or simply taking responsibility of the own career. Take the example of tenure trackers at university, who not only have to do excellent research but all of a sudden have to take on a role as an entrepreneur to secure their own employment by the acquisition of new projects by writing proposals. Should not we pay more attention to entrepreneurial education in our engineering programmes?

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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. Continue reading

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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. While we all know it is important to think systematically about teaching, learning and student success.

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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?

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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.

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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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