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 are available here (Concurrent Session 2).

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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