Category Archives: Engineering education

June 25, 2013, 12:04 pm

What math topic do engineering faculty rate as the most important?

did-an-even-math-problem-by-accident-answer-not-in-back-of-bookI’m at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference right now through Thursday, not presenting this time but keeping the plates spinning as Mathematics Division program chair. This morning’s technical session featured a very interesting talk from Kathy Harper of the Ohio State University. Kathy’s talk, “First Steps in Strengthening the Connections Between Mathematics and Engineering”, was representative of all the talks in this session, but hers focused on a particular set of interesting data: What engineering faculty perceive as the most important mathematics topics for their areas, and the level of competence at which they perceive students to be functioning in those topics.

In Kathy’s study, 77 engineering faculty at OSU responded to a survey that asked them to rate the importance of various mathematical topics on a 5-point scale, with 5 being the…

Read More

November 7, 2012, 7:00 am

Adopting new instructional strategies: Going with the gut

I’m really excited to be working next semester as a co-PI on a National Science Foundation grant with my Grand Valley State colleagues Scott Grissom (Computer Science), Shaily Menon (Chemistry), and Shannon Biros (Chemistry). We’re going to be interviewing a large number of GVSU faculty to try to understand why some of us adopt research-based instructional methods like peer instruction and why others don’t.

As we were putting together the grant proposal earlier this year, one statistic really impressed the importance of this study on me. GVSU is a fairly big place – we have nearly 25,000 students on multiple campuses with both undergraduate and graduate degrees offered. I don’t know how many sections of courses we offer in a given semester, but it’s got to be in the thousands. We have over 40 sections currently running for just College Algebra! And yet: How many sections…

Read More

June 14, 2012, 10:00 am

Calling all math people: ASEE 2013 is coming!

The following is a shameless plug for the Mathematics Division of the American Society for Engineering Education. I am the division’s program chair for next year’s conference in Atlanta, GA — the dates haven’t been released yet, but it’s always in the first half of June — which means I get to recruit presenters, set up the talks at the conference, and manage the logistics. The main thing is that we need presenters, and that’s the nature of the plug.

If you are an engineer with a passing interest in mathematics and its instruction, or a mathematics person with a passing interest in the education of engineers, this is the conference for you! And you should give a talk at the Atlanta conference. There are a number of reasons why:

  1. It’s a big conference, with over 4000 attending the 2012 meetings and about that many attending this year’s. Big stage for your ideas.
  2. It’s a different …

Read More

June 13, 2012, 12:17 pm

Continuous learning instead of “lifelong learning”

This will probably be my last missive from the ASEE conference, since I’m going into my talk session in an hour and then heading directly to the airport. It’s been a good meeting, and it’s always good to rub shoulders with my engineering colleagues to see what they’re doing. As I blogged on Monday, engineers are doing some pretty great things in education.

One of the threads that has really resonated with me here is the necessity of lifelong learning in STEM education. I sort of dislike that term, “lifelong learning”, because I don’t feel like it conveys sufficient urgency. When you hear engineers talk about this, you get that urgency: The problems engineers face are increasing in complexity at an exponential pace, and as one plenary speaker put it, it’s essential to be able to add continuously to your skill set in order to be a practicing engineer. All the good grades in the world…

Read More

June 12, 2012, 7:00 am

Misunderstandings vs. misconceptions

The first speaker in the Model-Eliciting Activities (MEA’s) session Monday morning said something that I’m still chewing on:

Misunderstanding is easier to correct than misconception.

She was referring to the results of her project, which took the usual framework for MEA’s and added a confidence level response item to student work. So students would work on their project, build their model, and when they were done, give a self-ranking of the confidence they had in their solution. When you found high confidence levels on wrong answers, the speaker noted, you’ve uncovered a deep-seated misconception.

I didn’t have time, but I wanted to ask what she felt the difference was between a misunderstanding and a misconception. My own answer to that question, which seemed to fit what she was saying in the talk, is that a misunderstanding is something like an incorrect interpretation of an idea …

Read More

June 11, 2012, 4:18 pm

What engineering educators don’t struggle with

I’m attending the American Society of Engineering Education conference and expo this week in San Antonio, and I hope to have some short blog posts from the various sessions and talks I’m attending.

This morning I attended part of a session on model-eliciting activities and the main plenary, which was titled “Keeping it Real” and focused on tying together academia and industry in engineering education. There were lots of good ideas discussed, but if there was one coherent take-away from these talks, it’s that engineers — at least the ones whose focus is on learning and teaching — are a lot further along than mathematicians in education practice.

Granted, my title here is a little overstated. I am not looking at a representative sample of engineers at this conference. These engineers are the ones who care and think the most about effective learning and teaching; I’m sure there are…

Read More

December 7, 2011, 8:41 am

What makes kids want to become engineers?

Many indicators are pointing to a critical shortage of engineers among the current high school generation. What’s the cause of all that? A study (PDF) by the nonprofit organization Change the Equation (with backing from Intel), focusing on 1004 students between the ages of 13 and 18 with computer access, suggests two things: a perception of difficulty coupled with an overall lack of knowledge about what engineering really is in the first place.

The Intel survey showed 63 percent of the students ages 13 to 18 have never considered the career despite having “generally positive opinions of engineers and engineering.” The perception that engineering is difficult also played a part in the lack of job consideration.

But the teens were especially interested when they learned about the potential for engineering to help others, such as saving the Chilean miners who were trapped in 2010,…

Read More

November 8, 2011, 6:52 am

Is math too hard? Or just not interesting enough?

The title of this NY Times article making the rounds in the blogosphere is titled “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)”. But it seems like the real reason that 40% of university students today who plan on careers in the STEM disciplines end up changing into other fields or dropping out is only partly about the hardness of the subjects. What are the other parts?  Read this:

But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash …

Read More

October 21, 2011, 8:51 am

Article about the flipped MATLAB class

As my only real contribution to the blog this week (I’m trying to amortize a stack of Calculus 2 exams before the weekend), I just wanted to announce that Mathworks News & Notes, the trade publication for Mathworks (developers of MATLAB), this quarter has an article about my flipped MATLAB class that I taught at Franklin College. You can download a PDF of the article at the website. That article has been about 9 months in the making. They did the photo shoot in April. (My students come off looking a lot better than I do, which is about right.)

The article does a nice job of explaining the context of the course, why I chose the inverted classroom format for it, and how things went on a day-to-day basis. I am very proud of the course and the work that students managed to do in it, and I’ll be thinking about — and trying to improve upon — that course for years to come. Longtime readers…

Read More

September 27, 2011, 4:35 pm

Education as a complex adaptive system?

In the latest issue of the Journal of Engineering Education, there’s a guest editorial by Rick Stephens and Michael Richey, both from The Boeing Company, that describes Boeing’s internal efforts to educate its engineers. Here’s the video abstract:

You’re more likely to associate the name “Boeing” with airplanes than with education, but in fact it turns out that Boeing’s educational portfolio is massive: 7 million hours of instruction to more than 150,000 employees across 45 countries — in 2009 alone! That comes out to about 28,000 hours of instruction per week, which would put Boeing in the league of a mid-sized university in terms of contact hours in the classroom.

But comparing Boeing to traditional educational structures is decidedly not the point of the article. The Boeing people ask: Why is it, after so much has been invested in STEM education research and practice, that…

Read More