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Facelift for Engineering Education?

Posted August 07, 2008 8:13 AM by Sharkles

James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, thinks a revolution is needed (link no longer available; original article could be previously found at asunews.asu.edu) in engineering education. An engineering professor himself, Duderstadt argued in a recent lecture that more education in the humanities and social sciences is necessary to produce young engineers with a deeper comprehension of the cultural and historical forces that affect technological advances. The Olin College of Engineering, (link no longer available; original article could be previously found at olin.edu) started just six years ago, has gotten rave reviews by following just that tack. Will a revolution in education really produce better engineers?

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#1

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/07/2008 9:46 AM

Anyone interested in newer methods of engineering education...or programs attempting to push the bar, check out the Queen's Civil Engineering Program and the Energywise 'for industry', industrial auditing coop. Although they aren't exactly what is needed, they are starting to improve programs bit by bit.

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#2

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/07/2008 1:18 PM

Jeez not more of this bollocks....

they already make Engineering students take 'general studies' and such like...
Do they make Humanities students study Engineering?
NO ! So sod off!

Del <Slaps furry head repeatedly with alternate paws>

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#4
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 3:07 AM

Dell the cat-I could not say it better. What a crap! (over here we call that BULL SHI*! James

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#8
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 1:14 PM

"Do they make Humanities students study Engineering?"

Maybe "they" should... A little math and physics couldn't hurt 'em. And a little art appreciation hasn't done you much harm, either, has it?

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#3

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 3:03 AM

I think that would be great. Any additional education would help.

Some of it is getting serious: I can't for the life of me find the article again, but I read where some professors at Oxford are extremely worried about the quality of freshmen students from the United States that are enrolling there.

It's not even that they are getting a lower quality student; they are getting supposedly top-notch students from the States that simply cannot perform the mathematics that is considered necessary for many of their science studies.

I see it anecdotally here, but I am reluctant to condemn it without a better idea of the scale of the problem, if it is a problem.

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#5

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 8:26 AM

Maybe we are just reaching a point of saturation. Does specialization have to start earlier?

I know no one wants to study content they are not excited or interested in. As an English teacher (albeit with a science degree), I would have the same reaction to hearing that I need additional advanced math classes to get a degree elsewhere.

But look at the state of the world. Do we really need people with less of a grip on history, sociology, anthropology, etc? When you really come down to it, and I realized I will be lit up for this, I don't care nearly as much about a new bridge or even more fuel efficient cars while their are world atrocities going on like in Darfur and in Rwanda. Even in Tibet. Heck, even in downtown Albany, NY.

I want to have a protected environment as much as anyone and I like technology more than most people that I normally associate with, but we need to prioritize. And being that CR4 is designed for engineers, I realize many of you might get your torches and sticks and come right for my door. That is okay with me.

If taking humanities classes makes you a better person, one who uses his or her skills in engineering, math, and science to make the world a better place instead of just a more advanced one, then just suck it up and take the flippin courses.

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#6
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 9:48 AM

Sorta with Del on this, though not, perhaps so vehemently.

Once a person gets to university level and hasn't achieved some kind of grip on the humanities, other than being a dammned shame, I point the finger right at the parents.

Too many soft options being offered here. They will ALWAYS be taken up to the detriment of the sciences. One having a heavy science load, ( such that one wants to actually achieve something) has, really, little room for the etherial stuff.

I guess I've seen too many people pass the responsibility for 'life education' of the child onto the 'education system'. Copping out.

It disgusts me.

Cheers

Stu

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#7
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 10:06 AM

Stueywright,

You make a good point about pointing the finger at the parents for "teaching life". The problem is that it is the "soft option" of soft options for one basic reason. There is no way to enforce that parents do a good job, just that they do a sustainable one. If kids are not in harm's way, have basic necessities met, then the job is officially fulfilled. They can teach their children garbage, or not at all, and they currently have the right to do as they please with no means of anyone doing anything about it, despite the fact that their offspring will eventually grow up to affect a large portion of their community by either what they do or what they don't do.

Part of me realizes that this is the way it has to be. There are some great parents out there and some that are neglectful, but not abusive. Not teaching your kid to value life, to learn the basic gist of what is important is a tragedy. And unlike public education, there is no remedy. Why do people focus on education's shortcomings? Because, while many people say that parents need to do a better job, there is almost no means of accountability in that department.

Almost every successful student I have ever had in my classroom has been the result of engaged, hard working, and morally upstanding parents. It had very little ever to do with me or my curriculum. Conversely, most classroom nightmares were also correlated with parents who were absent, extremely uneducated (not to be read as unintelligent, mind you), or resigned to be disengaged and disinterested.

How do we change that as a society? Government certainly cannot be expected to step in and say what the curriculum vitae should be in the home. We can, as a society, make suggestions, but that is it. And because of that, there will continue to be a gap between potential and reality, especially, in my opinion, with lower middle and lower class homes. I don't know the answer but I have kicked around several ideas and most are too unrealistic to incorporate.

But public education can be changed by hirings and firings and changes in policy. Parents don't have that hanging over their heads so that is why education will continue to take the heat and continue to be the only realistic and measurable means of changing this trend. And even though it is not the best way, or even the appropriate way, until society changes it's views or the corporate world changes its marketing campaigns and value systems, it is the only option open.

Perhaps college is too late to take on this task. But better that it be later than never. Is it time for standard colleges to look at a fifth year or high schools in the U.S. to look to a 13th? Maybe...

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#9
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 1:27 PM

Once upon a time in America, schools were there to provide education, and if little Johnny or Susie came to school with a maladjusted attitude, they'd not pass, be held back, or eventually drop out. That's where the ditch diggers and dish washers used to come from, and parents interested enough in their children to want them to aspire to better would pitch in on the education front, at least to the point of informing their childrens' attitudes.

Nowadays, if a child is held back, the school system is said to have failed them in a totally different sense of the word. It's a bitter pill to swallow, but if enough of the kids are faced with this kind of situation today (when ditch diggers and dish washers are not in high demand) perhaps not too many will have to swallow it before the rest get the message.

It is, in a way, similar to the ancient and honored (once) method of deterring crime. The townspeople or their leaders would hang a criminal's head on a pike at the gates to the town as a warning. It's not pretty, but it worked. Mind you, I'm not holding this out as a panacea, but I do stand ready to defend your back when the villagers come with pitchforks and torches.

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#11
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/09/2008 3:20 PM

great statement!

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#10
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/08/2008 6:34 PM

I agree with you that there are bigger problems in the world than our educational system but there is something you may not know unless you experienced it. A real engineering degree is a very difficult thing to get. It is common to take two or three very difficult courses (along with the easier stuff) semester after semester.

When I entered engineering school in 1976 there was a whole lecture hall full of freshman (literally hundreds) working toward an engineering degree. As the four years went by there were drop outs (especially at the beginning) but there was a continuous stream of engineering students going into other majors because lets face it, a real accredited Bachelor of Science in Engineering is HARD. When I graduated in 1980 my graduating class was eight, in one of the five engineering disciplines. The total for all five was I believe around 37.

I do not disagree that some other classes would not be wrong, but the student would need more money and more time, which would lead to less engineers. I also believe that a moral view of the world is not something you learn in a class room. There are many immoral or unethical business leaders that have taken many more humanities classes than engineers have.

My brother (who has good insight) has been a high school teacher for many years. He firmly believes the world of education is out to feed itself and make itself get bigger and bigger so when I hear an educator calling for more formal education I am concerned. I also want to add that I value your opinion and am glad you are commenting here on CR4.

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#12
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/09/2008 4:17 PM

I am always in favor of more pholosophy, history, and literature - whether or not the person is an engineer. However, substantive additions will require engineers to take at least 1 more semester of college.

Taking 1 more semester will mean fewer engineers - at least here in the USA. We need more not less here. Unless the US gov starts paying for college then adding semesters needs to be considered very carefully.

My facelift for engineering education would be to eliminate testing and grades for homework. Shift the emphasis to group projects and communication through Word and Powerpoint documents. Communication still causes a lot of problems on complex programs.

Gabe

My blog on how engineering education need to change: http://blogs.controltheorypro.com/2008/08/engineering-education/

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#13
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/11/2008 8:27 AM

I understand, from the outside, how tough it is to become an engineer. I was friends with a quite a few civil and mechanical engineering students and not all of them made it. Some had to take beyond the regular class load of a "normal student" just to graduate on time because engineering disciplines required more classes. It is something I don't think that I could have done.

I am also sensitive to the notion that more schooling means more money. I attended a private school for both my undergraduate and graduate education. I worked crummy jobs at restaurants and shoe stores to help pay my way through. So I fully understand what an extra semester or an extra year would have meant and how much it still stings every month when my monstrous student loan payment is due (12/2010 cannot get her fast enough!!!).

Furthermore, I was not and am not pointing the finger at engineering as the source of immorality. Taking an ethics course makes you no more ethical than going to the doctor's office makes you a doctor. It gives an cursory overview. Rarely, however, have I ever heard of more education hurting someone. Being more knowledgeable about any topic rarely is a negative, at least in my humble opinion.

Does education continue to grow? Of course it does. We are asking kids to be able to do more, understand more, and have more skills than when I was in school. Some shine under the weight and some buckle. We constantly hear in the news how we are, as a nation, falling behind the likes of China and India.

Unless there is a proposal along the lines that we have students specialize earlier, something like having them pick a major in high school, I don't see how we can continue to add to the curriculum on a continual pace without a change in volume. We need to either cut out other material or change the time there is for it to be taught.

I am certainly not an engineer. But as my father told me a long time ago, it's impossible to put ten pounds of anything into a five pound bag. Actually, he didn't use "anything" as his particular example, but I am sure you will get the point.

Cutting the humanities for science and math students and cutting science and math for humanities students seems to make fiscal sense in that there wouldn't be added costs for students and education would be able to keep staffing lower despite our ever increasing population. But the added cost might just end up being the results of that type of education.

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#14
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/11/2008 9:27 AM

Concur, especially on your concluding statement. If there is more to be learned, the solution is not to reduce the requirements, but rather to lengthen the duration of the education. You can't expect kids to learn things faster just to fit an outmoded timetable!

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#15

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/20/2008 4:57 PM

I graduated from college 4 years ago and there was too much humanities crap in there then.

These "liberal arts" classes in colleges are not met to educate or promote free thinking, they are there to program you to think a certain way.

If you want more engineers more well rounded and study humanities give them the choice to and stop ramming it down our throats.

Part of it is the mindset that learning only happens in a classroom. If I want to learn about Mayans I will take a class on it or read up on it on my own. I have done more reading and learning about history, philosophy and social studies in the 4 years since I graduated than during the 4 years I was in school. stop jamming it down people's throats and making a mold for everyone to fit into.

just my $0.02.

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#16
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/20/2008 5:11 PM

I hear the same idea from my ninth graders who would prefer to just play Guitar Hero. I don't think your point is without merit, but its not that simple.

You sound pretty motivated. I am all for empowering students to be lifelong learners. But we know that the majority of people are lazy by nature. Is there a middle ground?

What if the humanities were based on independent research? You don't have to take classes on the Mayans, but you owe, once per year (or semester, or whatever), a research project on the subject of your choice in the fields of history, literature, art, etc.

I have seen people left to their own devices often. In my field, too often. There are a lot of people I know who haven't picked up a book since they left high school. Or they only study what aligns with their current mindset so they rarely expand their horizons and understanding of the world.

The end result is that they know little about much of the world and that type of ignorance is why we have so much intolerance, hatred, fear, and oppression. Looking back, I wish some engineering was required of me in college. I would have gotten something out of it, I am sure, even with my disdain for math.

Once you are out of school, you have 50 years to learn on your own. But until that time, there has to be some structure and direction if we want a well read, open minded society that promotes tolerance and understands more than their own specialized world.

I understand that the current system doesn't work very well, but we also just can't abandon the idea of a well rounded education and just hope that people will learn on their own.

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#17
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/20/2008 10:09 PM

I love the idea of the research program. Still difficult to find the time but not impossible and certainly has the possibility of being much more interesting.

When I took my philosophy courses the class portion was almost useless. I either got a B for begin too arrogant or an A for stating what I considered to be obvious. The profs were worth listening to at least half the time but the vast majority of my classmates were not. It's really too bad.

On the flip side, the people pursuing liberal arts degrees should be required to master a certain level of math - algebra and stats - as well as logic. It was appalling to me how many of these people were going to graduate without the slightest grasp of logic.

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#18
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/21/2008 7:33 AM

I see what you mean, and if I said that in the ninth grade I would probably mean the same thing your students do (and even today I still play video games, not guitar hero though).

But forcing programs onto people many times just turns people off b/c of the very fact they are being forced to learn it.

I figured out early on that college courses and my college education was only going to be as good as I made it.

On somewhat of a tangent, one of the things that worry me, is that if college education becomes "free" then it will become another entitlement program full of people who dont' deserve or want to be there and in turn end up being a continuation of our for the most part poorly run high schools.

I understand people for the most part in this world are lazy and don't want to continue learning but I don't see how forcing programs on people would help that. We would be better suited to not continuously "pick up the slack" for those people so they realize that it is up to them to learn what they need to. If people don't want to continue learning adn live in a cardboard box and mumble something that resembles some form of unintelligible thoughts I don't really care as long as my taxes don't support or prop them up.

I do like the idea of having research programs in which you could choose the subject matter and work at your own pace. I would have preferred that over the system I graduated from.

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#19
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/21/2008 8:29 AM

Gabe Spradlin and Skeptical Guy,

I was even thinking this morning that I would have enjoyed an independent engineering based project more than my Calculus or astrophysics classes for the same basic reason. I would have picked something hands on, which suits my interests much more than theoretical learning. I, too, had the same experience in philosophy and eventually (in youthful arrogance and irresponsibility) just didn't attend class very often. My honors thesis was what I worked hardest on and was the most enjoyable part of my first four years of school. I also completed an independent study for my minor (one of those rare students who had a science major and an arts minor), which was also enjoyable for the same reason.

SG, You are totally right that just jamming it down people's throats has an adverse reaction (at least eventually) and that if you want the best education, you need to take ownership.

A lot (way too much) of my master's degree program was just jumping through hoops. I graduated from a program that was ranked fourth in the nation at one point, so I can only imagine what some of the lesser programs must be like.

I also agree that free education for college and beyond would increase the issue of entitlement that this country is already crushed with, but there also needs to be some relief for tuition. The two most prestigious engineering schools in this area cost somewhere between $37k and $42k, annually.

I am somewhat with you with the idea of letting people fend for themselves. Living in China, I saw the ultimate display of "fail and you are out" and it looked like it worked pretty well. People worked so hard in school and never complained because they wanted to advance. The problem here is that it would initially create a massive tidal wave into the working class, at least IMHO, and then there would be outcries for government support and programs. China just said no. I don't think our elected officials have that luxury. And that relief would manifest itself into more dollars coming out of our paychecks.

I refuse to endorse any program that makes me pay any more than I already am for people who just want to sit home and play Guitar Hero and do nothing for themselves.

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#20

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/21/2008 11:46 PM

Hi All,

Have anyone of you heard of this ECUK (Engineering Council UK)? I heard some engineers say the exam is very tough and I would also like to know how different it is from university education. Why are they claiming registered engineers are more highly priced compared to ordinary graduate?

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#21

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/22/2008 7:29 AM

There can be different ways to teach adn some will work better for some people and not for others, and the method Olin is using may work for certain people but no single way is correct for everyone. That is why everyone's education ultimately needs to be that person's responsibility.

But I think something that society has lost a grasp of is the fact that you can't teach talent, you can improve it but you can't make it appear where it is not present. Not every child has a mind like Einstein and the athleticism of Michael Jordan, and through all of our society's politicial correctness we have lost the gust to tell people they aren't good enough at something.

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#22
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Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

08/22/2008 8:20 AM

Good answer (so voted) - too many personal affirmations that read: "I am unique (just like everyone else) and I am a very special person (just like everyone else)". OK, little bubba, but that does not mean that you are the equal of everyone else in all things!

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#23

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

09/04/2008 12:35 AM

I have to agree on the humanities. Engineering takes inspiration and imagination. Think of the Greek Sculptors who use those primatived tools to bring beauty to life from a piece of rock.

Just as a well designed product or process is a peice of art to an engineer and me these classes will show the student things that have already been accomplished. The Roman water works bringing water hundreds of miles at times to home with flush toliets. The roman baths and how they were heated that is part of humanities studies too.

My grandfater said that any man whose produced something of value was actually producing art. It take a good mind and skilled hands to produce art.

I never regreted that class.

As far as Social Sciences, I don't see learning how others assimulate into society is that exciting. Engineers create most of the things in society they know the process already. Assimulation for an Engineer is learned on the job.

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#24

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

09/09/2008 10:29 AM

As an Aerospace engineer I have been told by my mentors that education in the humanities could be a useful thing especially when entering upper management. This was something I really needed.

One day I was told by the legal dept. that what I really need is more education in law. Since I must deal with patents, copyrights, contracts etc. Yes, I need this.

I have been told by the business dept. that what I really needed was more education in of course business since I was dealing with large sums of money and accounting etc. this is what I really needed.

I was told by mid level management that what I really needed was more education in project management since I was dealing with costs, schedules, manpower etc. this is what I really needed.

I was then told by the Science Dept. that what I really needed was more education in things like astronomy, and high energy Astrophysics since this is where most of our engineering requirements were derived. Yes, this is what I really needed.

I was once told by the engineering dept. that what I really needed was more education in the electrical, electronics, mechanical, structural, thermal, optical, materials etc. fields of engineering. Yes, I know I need these things.

I was once told by a very wise man that what I need to call my profession was a practice, since I will never stop learning or practicing.

What do you think I should do?

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#25
In reply to #24

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

09/09/2008 11:56 AM

Practice, man, practice!

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#26
In reply to #24

Re: Facelift for Engineering Education?

09/10/2008 7:05 AM

If you want to be like everybody else, do what they do.

Frankly, I've never held much stock in what others think I should do.

I can only advise you, too, to shun their opinions. They smack of 'ordinary'.

Strive for excellence.

You're an intelligent person. You know what to do.

Start with your own 'backyard', then work out from there, and conquer the world.

Cheers,

Stu.

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