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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop 1 Introduction MOTIVATION FOR THE WORKSHOP Previous National Academies reports1,2 have demonstrated that engineering research, innovation, and education are occurring in an increasingly globalized context. In order to meet the demands created by rapidly changing social and political realities, as well as new scientific and technological opportunities, it is crucial to continually advance how engineers are trained and educated. An imperative for our nation’s prosperity is the preparation of future engineers who can thrive in highly dynamic environments, and to successfully train the engineers of tomorrow, greater attention must be paid to the content and delivery of engineering curricula. PURPOSE AND CONDUCT OF THE WORKSHOP In April 2006, The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) was asked by the National Science Foundation to organize a workshop to discuss, critique, and offer alternatives to existing models of engineering curricula. The NAE formed an engineering curricula workshop organizing committee, chaired by Eli Fromm, under the auspices of the Committee on Engineering Education. The committee held a workshop March 23-24, 2009, in Washington, DC, focused on enhancing engineering curricula and exploring how to better prepare future engineers. The workshop included individuals from industry, university faculty, administrators, and representatives from governmental agencies and professional societies, in order to explore comprehensive alternative curricular models capable of supporting student learning as envisioned by the ABET accreditation criteria3 and the Engineer of 2020 reports.4,5 The agenda for the workshop is given in Appendix A. Workshop participants included members of the workshop organizing committee, and invited guests from industry, academia, and professional societies who were familiar with engineering curriculum design. See Appendix B for a list of participants. The workshop was not a consensus-building activity. This report is intended to summarize the main points made 1 The National Academies (2007), Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. 2 NAE (2005), Engineering Research and America’s Future, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. 3 ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission (2008), Criteria for Accreditation of Engineering, Baltimore, MD, ABET, Inc. http://www.abet.org/forms.shtml#For_Engineering_Programs_Only [Accessed April 9, 2009]. 4 NAE (2004), The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. 5 NAE (2005), Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop and actions suggested from the workshop’s “breakout sessions” and capture the related themes. It does not provide consensus findings or recommendations. In planning the workshop, the committee sought to have the flow of the presentations and subsequent discussions advance the overall workshop aim of developing new curricular models. Keynote talks were identified with the aims of (a) explaining the reasons for the scope and sequence of current engineering curricula with emphasis on the positive aspects as well as those aspects which may have outlived their usefulness, (b) indicating the potential to enhance future engineering curricula through creative uses of instructional technologies, (c) emphasizing both the importance of inquiry-based activities as well as authentic learning experiences grounded in real-world contexts, and (d) highlighting the opportunities provided by looking more deeply at what personal and professional outcomes result from studying engineering. In opening the workshop, Charles Vest, President of the NAE, summarized the relatively low representation of baccalaureate engineering degrees in the US compared with countries in Europe and Asia and noted that President Obama is calling for more young people to enter the engineering profession. He emphasized the importance of getting the word “engineer” used directly and distinctly as part of conversations about education and national industrial policy. He observed that making sure engineering schools provide students with stimulating and demanding environments is more important than specifying curricular details. He remarked that attempts to predict relevant curricular content in the past had proven unreliable and offered examples such as manufacturing (academic backwater in the 1980, but area of national crisis in 1990), and energy and power (academic backwater in 2000, but area of urgent national crisis in 2010). He suggested that university education should reflect the frontiers and synergies of fields of engineering. He then noted that the two major strands in engineering are the micro (i.e., nano-, bio-, info-) and the macro (energy, environment, health care, etc.); and that to effectively bridge these strands, engineers need to engage the expertise of natural and social scientists. However, successful bridging the strands will offer large societal payoffs in areas such as bio-based materials, personalized medicine, biofuels, synthetic biology, etc. He then summarized the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering6 and expressed his excitement at the strong resonance they have generated in the engineering community. He was particular enthusiastic about efforts to engage young faculty in an education-focused dialogue that would build a community of education innovators and aid in the propagation of innovations. He offered David Baker of the University of Washington an example of such a young innovator. Baker is an award winning Howard Hughes Medical Institute biochemist and adjunct professor of bioengineering doing leading edge work in protein folding. Baker and his co-workers, including students, developed the video game Foldit7. While users are engaged in the game, the computer is studying their pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities to determine if there are there are human strategies that can be adapted to computer algorithms for folding proteins. The result could be faster understanding of protein structures and insight into how proteins might be targeted with drugs to treat diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. 6 See http://www.engineeringchallenges.org. 7 See http://fold.it/portal/info/science [Accessed May 6, 2009].
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop In his opening remarks, Eli Fromm, the organizing committee chair, outlined the tasks before the attendees as being to explore the efficacy of commonly used curricular structures and curricular content as well as alternatives. The aim was to see if new curricular models might better draw upon theories of teaching and learning in order to deepen student learning of fundamental engineering concepts taught in core engineering courses. In addition to greater depth of learning of engineering fundamentals, Fromm posed a desire to have engineering students better demonstrate such professional skills as teaming, communication, and business acumen. He also challenged those present to think about how engineering curricula could better engage students who did not intend to become practicing engineers, but would nonetheless benefit from the skills and disciplined mode of thinking taught to engineers. Four keynote addresses set the key themes to be considered by the workshop attendees: The origins of current engineering curricula, a future vision for engineering curricula, engaging students through grand challenges, and using the liberal arts model for engineering education. Joseph Bordogna of the University of Pennsylvania offered a historical retrospective on the development of engineering as a field from ancient times to the present and on the development of US engineering education programs from the first program at the US military academy at West Point. He summarized the processes that lead to the emergence of new engineering disciplines and the consequent effect on the organization of academic departments. He also summarized the societal, economic, and political influences on academic engineering. Throughout his remarks, he weaved continual reinforcement of a message that engineers must be synthesizers who should pay little heed to boundaries, but must focus intently on serving societal needs. Woodie Flowers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology challenged attendees to take on the NAE Grand Challenge to “Advance Personalized Learning” by focusing faculty for the true challenges of education (e.g., learning to think using calculus, learning to communicate, learning to design, and understanding systems) and using computerized media for routine tasks better characterized as training (e.g., learning calculus, learning spelling, and grammar, learning computer-aided-design packages, and learning parts of systems). Drawing upon data from an MIT undergraduate’s thesis, he showed that although past MIT baccalaureate recipients believed they received a superlative technical education, they also believed there to be insufficient attention to professional skills (e.g., teamwork, communications skills, independent thinking, business skills, and societal context). Flowers then suggested a much greater emphasis on (a) learning by doing so as to promote understanding specific phenomena before understanding their generalized abstractions, and (b) learning as a collaborative discovery experience among students and between students and faculty mentors. He posited that technology had reached the stage where a “new media” model should be actively pursued. He explained the model as one in which entertainment-quality web-based modules are used for teaching. The web modules use cinema-quality animation, voice and video clips, captions, and text, all combined as appropriate in accurate, well organized, pedagogically solid productions. Achieving such technologies requires an adequate investment, but such investments are both possible and can generate adequate returns to make them worthwhile. He contrasted the relatively small number of authors and static content of the traditional textbook, with the very large number of contributors
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop and engaging content of a commercial film or video game. He concluded by offering the film short on “The Inner Life of the Cell”8 as an example of the type of complex information that could be clearly and effectively presented via the “new media” model. Geoffrey Orsak, dean of engineering at Southern Methodist University, reflected on a “listening tour” he undertook upon assuming his position. A key theme he heard in many conversations with many different types of stakeholders was a desire to have engineering graduates who could meet societal needs (e.g., build an off-road wheelchair, design a glucose meter that does not use a needle, or design a highly efficient but low cost cooking pot for use in emerging economies). He urged a return to the heroic role of engineers that existed during the race to the moon in the 1960’s. He believes that accomplishing this requires placing greater emphasis on educating future engineers by having them work on real problems that matter to real customers. He cautioned that doing this effectively may require operating outside of traditional curricular structures. James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, synthesized a wide array of nationally significant reports on engineering research, practice, and education in order to (a) identify current challenges to the further progress and development of engineering research, practice, and education in the US, (b) suggest goals for needed progress in engineering research, practice, and education, (c) look at the gap between where we are and where we need to be, and (d) offer a path forward to 21st century engineering. He summarized past reports as indicating (1) US technological preeminence requires its leadership in engineering research, practice, and education, (2) in order for US engineers to compete in a global economy, they must offer higher value than their international counterparts, (3) in order for US engineers to have needed influence in political and business domains, the profession must be elevated in prestige and influence, (4) to achieve the goals in items 1 through 3, preparation for professional research and practice in engineering should occur at the graduate level (as is the case with medicine and law) while the undergraduate study of engineering would become a liberal arts subject of study (as is the case with humanities and science courses). Duderstadt then offered specific recommendations in the areas of research, practice, and education for re-positioning engineering for the 21st century. He suggested that engineers should identify more with their profession than with their employers and that engineering research would benefit from a new model linking universities, industry, and government in collaborative research. Duderstadt then expanded upon his recommendations by urging more structured approaches to the lifelong learning of engineers, and urging all stakeholders to commit to greater racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among future engineers. A panel of speakers opened a general discussion of curricular implications of emerging trends in engineering: engineering at the interfaces with other disciplines, the engineer’s role in a global economy, the engineer’s role in developing countries, and teaching leadership within engineering. David Goldberg of the University of Illinois spoke about evident opportunities in interdisciplinary collaboration, the conceptual barriers that impede interdisciplinary collaboration, strategies to mitigate the barriers and facilitate 8 BioVisions at Harvard University, The Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College, 2007. http://multimedia.mcb.harvard.edu/anim_innerlife_hi.html [Accessed May 6, 2009].
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop collaboration, and examples of new interdisciplinary initiatives linking engineering and other fields. Norman Fortenberry of NAE highlighted the breadth of activities that are encompassed in the term “engineering,” the national and societal contexts of engineering around the globe, country-specific and common themes in reports examining engineering education, and the desirability of moving toward “continuous improvement” in engineering education through pursuit of research on the process of engineering education both by engineering faculty and in collaboration with those in the learning sciences and other professions. Benjamin Linder of Olin College recounted the excitement and high engagement of his students when offered the opportunity to apply their engineering knowledge to the challenges facing real people in developing countries. The real-world exposure to socially relevant engineering problems reinforced their interest in engineering coursework. Lesia Crumpton-Young of the University of Central Florida (UCF), described the motivations for and content of engineering leadership programs. She reported on survey results showing the high value UCF students attach to their engineering leadership program in terms of advancing their social, communication, and business skills as well as greater confidence in the use of their technical skills. Following the keynote and panel presentations, the workshop organizing committee believed it would be useful to engage attendees directly in group discussion of emerging roles served by engineers that should inform the design of future curricula. These include the engineer’s role as a connector across disciplines, the engineer’s role in community-based and socially-relevant projects, and the engineer’s role as a leader. Appropriate “breakout sessions” were organized and attendees were divided into groups based upon their interest and expertise in the following subjects: Engineering education research findings that inform curricular innovation Models of enacted curricular innovation efforts and lessons learned Working with non-engineering faculty to achieve breadth and depth in engineering education innovation The breakout group on curricular influences of engineering education research was led by Barbara Olds of the Colorado School of Mines and included Susan Ambrose of Carnegie Mellon University, Kurt Becker of Utah State University, Eliot Douglas of the University of Florida, PK Imbrie of Purdue University, Teri Reed-Rhoads of Purdue University, James O’Brien of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Tom Perry of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and Gloria Rogers of ABET, Inc. Group members were asked to respond to such questions as the following: What engineering education research trends are emerging and what are their implications for engineering curricula? What gaps exist between current engineering educational research and ideal research; what changes should be made?
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop How can research findings become a part of sustainable innovation and change within engineering curricula? There was limited discussion of the first question with reference made to findings emerging both individual researchers as well as national centers such as the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education9. However, multiple suggestions were made by individual group members in response to the last two questions. These suggestions included: (a) looking at the nature of curricular innovation, (b) conducting research on those factors which promote the diffusion of curricular innovation, (c) developing tools and workshops to facilitate faculty sharing of research findings and the translation of research findings into innovative modifications of instructional practice, (d) building professional incentives and rewards for continual faculty attention to educational research as well as curricular and instructional innovation, and (e) assessing the professional performance and career paths of students under various curricular models so as to inform faculty, students, and employers about the value of innovative instructional and curricular methods. The breakout group on enacted curricular innovations and lessons learned was led by Stan Napper of Louisiana Tech and included Joseph Bordogna of the University of Pennsylvania, Debbie Chachra of Olin College, Adam Fontecchio of Drexel University, Patricia Fox of Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis and of the American Society for Engineering Education, David Goldberg of the University of Illinois, Robert Gufstafson of Ohio State University, Sherra Kerns of Olin College, Wendy Newstetter of Georgia Tech, Geoffrey Orsak of Southern Methodist University, Larry Shuman of the University of Pittsburgh, and Bob Warrington of Michigan Technological University. Group members were asked to respond to such questions as the following: What programs have significantly changed their engineering curricula? How are these programs succeeding and what lessons have been learned? How can these programs be improved and what sustainable new models need to emerge? All members of this breakout group noted that each of their universities had changed its engineering curricula significantly within the past decade. Individual breakout group members identified engineering programs at other institutions that they considered to have experienced significant change over the same time period, specifically those at Carnegie-Mellon, Clemson, Penn State, Purdue, Rose-Hulman, Rowan, the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Observations made by individual group members on lessons to be drawn from the examples offered included (a) individual champions are needed to initiate and sustain change, (b) support of key administrators such as deans is critical, (c) faculty and students 9 See for example, Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education, “Findings from the Academic Pathways Study,” released at Special Session 2530 at the 2009 Annual Conference of the American Society for Engineering Education held in Austin, TX, June 14-17, 2009. Available at http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/caee-summary-findings-from-academic-pathways-study/7328287 [Accessed August 28, 2009].
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop must be engaged, (d) buy-in of faculty and students is facilitated by the provision of choice and flexibility, and (e) visible and prestigious support, such as that from National Science Foundation grants, can contribute to initiation, maintenance, and diffusion of program innovations. Suggestions by individual group members for sustaining programs included (a) attracting and maintaining industrial interest and sponsorship, (b) use of student “user” fees, and (c) administrative and structure changes to institutionalize policies and procedures. The breakout group on working with non-engineering faculty was led by Deb Hughes-Hallet, a mathematician at the University of Arizona and included Robert Beichner a physicist from North Carolina State University, Benjamin Linder of Olin, Donald McEachron of Drexel, Alan Tucker, a mathematician from Stony Brook University, and Linda Vanasupa of California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. Group members were asked to respond to such questions as the following: How can engineering faculty partner with math and science faculty to benefit engineering students? How can engineering faculty most effectively partner with social science, liberal arts, and business faculty in order to broaden the education of engineering students? How can engineering faculty most effectively partner with social science, liberal arts, and business faculty in order to enhance the technological awareness and understanding of non-engineering students? What model partnerships exist that provide lessons for answering the previous questions above? Observations by individual members of this group included (a) interaction between engineering and non-engineering faculty was critical to achieving the curricular innovations needed to promote the broader education needed by engineering students, (b) a pre-requisite for addressing any of the questions posed was to better understand how to improve interactions, in general, between engineering and non-engineering faculty, (c) there is a perceived a lack of respect on the part of engineering faculty for the methods and theories underlying the scholarship and research conducted by their non-engineering peers, particularly those in the social sciences and humanities, and (d) a strong need exists to promote greater open mindedness among engineering faculty that would facilitate collaboration on creative and reflective pursuits. Several suggestions were made by individuals on how greater open mindedness might be promoted. These included (a) encouraging engineering faculty to make sure their students understand how messy and complex real-world problems are and, thereby, encourage their gaining an appreciation for the level of assumptions and approximations present in engineering work, (b) encouraging faculty understanding of their students perspectives by supporting engineering faculty to audit non-engineering courses and non-engineering faculty to audit engineering courses, and (c) promoting collaborative teaching by engineering and non-engineering faculty.
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Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities, Summary of a Workshop The global themes that emerged from the breakout sessions are summarized by topic area in Section 2. Specific observations from the breakout sessions are presented in Section 3.