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

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

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

TU/expedition 2030

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

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

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

Learners will create their own playlist

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

Hands-on learning labs will become the prime educational spaces

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

Engineering education: interdisciplinary and embedded in an innovation ecosystem

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

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

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

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

Awareness

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

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

Technical depth: more important than ever

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

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

Next Engineering Education Transformation

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

Learning objectives, attainment levels, assessments and flip-thinking

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

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

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

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This is what we can do to break the gender stereotype in hardcore engineering

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

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

Why so few?

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

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

Women in a Man’s World, but not everywhere

Photo: TU Delft

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

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

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

Lack of role models

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

The world needs more women in engineering

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

Gender stereotypes

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

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

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

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

Talking differently about engineering will attract different people

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

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

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

Are females the engineers for the future?

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

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

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

Opportunities for women with a career break

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

Lack of confidence causes women change their minds

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

Impact of selective admission

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

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

The GEDC – Airbus Diversity Award

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

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

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

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

AI and inclusiveness

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


Epilogue

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

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

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

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Looking at the outside world: Never urgent but always important

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

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

Learning organisation

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

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

One tenth of a percent

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

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

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

Look at the outside world

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

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

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

My followers

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

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

Favourite subjects

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

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

What’s on my agenda 2018?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the course about?

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

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

In the course they will:

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

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

Professional roles

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

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

More information and registration

Registration is open till 17 January 2018. You can find detailed course information on the website of “Design Your Next Career Move.

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

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

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

Accelerating growth and development, but not in education

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

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

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

Have we been fast enough?

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

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

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

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

Where will we go from here?

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

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

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

The changing impact of engineering on society, and vice versa

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

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

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

Panoramic view of the Niagara Falls from the conference hotel

Changing our engineering education

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

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

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

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

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

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

The GEDC also discussed the value of adding the a dimension of Mindsets to a curriculum, in addition to the Intended Learning Outcomes of Knowledge and Skills. Examples of such Mindsets could be Growth, an Employer’s perspective, Innovation, Entrepreneurial, Adaptivity, Society as the Centre of Engineering. Mindsets will provide convergence and integration in student learning.

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

Who has the courage to change?

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

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

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

Students as the change agent

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

Industry 4.0 is on the threshold

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

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

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

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

Embracing the future today

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

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

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

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Russia’s catching up on active forms of engineering education

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

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

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

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Can Virtual Reality enhance our education?

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

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

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

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How to transform disposable fulltime lecturers into innovative power?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toekomst van hoger technisch onderwijs in de maritieme sector

Stilstaan gevaarlijker dan meebewegen met onzekere verandering

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

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

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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.

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. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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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.

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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.

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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;

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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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