Category Archives: Engineering education

December 3, 2010, 3:17 pm

In defense of big universities

Recent Kirkland Hall photograph.

Image via Wikipedia

I’d like to take back something that I said in my post last week on the UCF cheating scandal (my emphasis):

[T]he more this situation unfolds, the more unhealthy it makes the whole educational environment surrounding it seem. Class sizes in the multiple hundreds: Check. Courses taught mainly through lecture: Check. Professor at a remove from the students: Check. Exams taken off the rack rather than tuned to the specific student population: Check. And on it goes. I know this is how it works at many large universities and there’s little that one can do to change things; but with all due respect to my colleagues at such places, I just can’t see what students find appealing about these places, and I wonder if students at UCF are thinking the same thing nowadays.

I’m coming at that statement as some…

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August 17, 2010, 4:01 pm

Why change how we teach?

Sometimes when I read or hear discussions of innovation or change in teaching mathematics or other STEM disciplines, whether it’s me or somebody else doing the discussing, inevitably there’s the following response:

What do we need all that change for? After all, calculus [or whatever] hasn’t changed that much in 400 years, has it?

I’m not a historian of mathematics, so I can’t say how much calculus has or hasn’t changed since the times of Newton and Leibniz or even Euler. But I can say that the context in which calculus is situated has changed – utterly. And it’s those changes that surround calculus that are forcing the teaching of calculus (any many other STEM subjects) to change –radically.

What are those changes?

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/brostad/

First, the practical problems that…

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June 23, 2010, 7:00 am

Funniest remark of the ASEE so far

…goes to Robert Grondin of Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus, who made this remark in his talk in the Liberal Education for 21st Century Engineering session:

We do projects at the beginning of the course, because projects are fun, and we want to fool students into thinking that engineering is fun.

This was apropos of how engineering curricula usually incorporate projects — either at the beginning of the curricula via a freshman design course, or at the end via a senior design course, or both. But you can pretty much substitute any discipline and get the way we often think about how projects fit into the curriculum, right?

Prof. Grondin, on the other hand, has designed a generic Engineering degree — not Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or whatnot… just Engineering — for ASU Polytechnic that requires only 20 hours of engineering coursework beyond the…

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June 22, 2010, 7:42 pm

Partying like it's 1995

Yesterday at the ASEE conference, I attended mostly sessions run by the Liberal Education Division. Today I gravitated toward the Mathematics Division, which is sort of an MAA-within-the-ASEE. In fact, I recognized several faces from past MAA meetings. I would like to say that the outcome of attending these talks has been all positive. Unfortunately it’s not. I should probably explain.

The general impression from the talks I attended is that the discussions, arguments, and crises that the engineering math community is dealing with are exactly the ones that the college mathematics community in general, and the MAA in particular, were having — in 1995. Back then, mathematics instructors were asking questions such as:

  • Now that there’s relatively inexpensive technology that will do things like plot graphs and take derivatives, what are we supposed to teach now?
  • Won’t all that technology…

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June 21, 2010, 6:21 pm

What (some) engineers think about liberal education

I’m currently at the American Society for Engineering Education conference and symposium in Louisville. There is a lot to process as I attend sessions on student learning, technological literacy, liberal education, and so on, all from the perspective of engineers and engineering educators. There is an entire division (a sort of special interest group) within the ASEE for Liberal Education, and I attended one of their paper sessions this afternoon.

Engineers have a quite different perspective on liberal education than those in “liberal arts” disciplines (by which we usually mean social sciences, arts, humanities) and those of us math/science people working in liberal arts colleges, but surprisingly — at least for the engineers I hung out with in the session — the two conceptions largely agree. We all conceive of liberal education as education that integrates multiple perspectives into …

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