December 17, 2008

Another call for change...

I was directed to the article linked above by First Bell, a service that provides daily summaries of news on engineering and engineering education to ASEE members. The article from EE Times is worth reading if you haven't been following the debate in why engineering education needs to be reformed. In brief, James Plummer, Stanford's dean of engineering, calls for ten reforms in how engineering is taught. All ten are actually feasible and realistic goals for any porogram. Of course to nobody's surprise it sounds like Stanford does all ten, but one wonders how well...

Why do I think this article is important? In the first place it reflects the increasing calls for significant, and perhaps even radical, changes in how we teach engineering by an ever more vocal minority. Those espousing change include more and more deans, department heads, and other administrators who have the authority and budgets to make such change happen. The other reason this article is important is that it provides a list of ten things an individual faculty member can actually do to improve how students are taught engineering. Pick one, any one. How can you make it happen on your campus?

From my own recent experience I found the a little bittersweet in comparing the attitude of Stanford's dean with those at my own university. Last week I had a chance to sit down and talk with an administrator in my own engineering college about educating students. He complained that engineering education hadn't published any studies that showed improving how instructors taught resulted in improvements in learning. His opinion was that all the engineering education literature focused on designing new, resource-intensive labs that most programs couldn't implement. I'm not surprised by this ignorance- it wasn't that long ago that I was as poorly informed.

So today I e-mailed the administrator a nice literature review created byJeff Froyd at Texas A&M University on the effectiveness of active learning. You can find a copy on the Engineering Students for the 21st Century website. It is definitely worth reading if you are wondering if there are ways to change traditional teaching to improve how well students learn.

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