Scholarly article on topic 'Teaching and Learning in Engineering Education – Are We Moving with the Times?'

Teaching and Learning in Engineering Education – Are We Moving with the Times? Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{Education / Teaching / Learning / Innovation / Motivation / "Peer Assisted Learning" / "Problem Based Group Learning"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Plato Kapranos

Abstract Although “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future” according to Niels Bohr, nevertheless, this paper attempts a look into the future by presenting the personal views of the author regarding Teaching & Learning activities in Engineering Education. This is done by seeking answers to such fundamental questions as ‘What is the nature of Education?’, ‘What are Universities for?’, ‘How do students learn?’ and ‘How can we use technologies to enhance the Teaching & Learning experience for our students? Recent examples of innovative Teaching & Learning activities from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield are used to illustrate how academics there ‘are moving with the times’.

Academic research paper on topic "Teaching and Learning in Engineering Education – Are We Moving with the Times?"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 102 (2013) 3-10

6th International Forum on Engineering Education (IFEE 2012)

Teaching and Learning in Engineering Education - Are we moving

with the times?

Plato Kapranos

The University of Sheffield, Department of Materials Science & Engineering, Sir Robert Hadfield Bldg, Mappin Street, Sheffield, S1 3JD,


Although "Prediction is difficult, especially about the future" according to Niels Bohr, nevertheless, this paper attempts a look into the future by presenting the personal views of the author regarding Teaching & Learning activities in Engineering Education. This is done by seeking answers to such fundamental questions as 'What is the nature of Education?', 'What are Universities for?', 'How do students learn?' and 'How can we use technologies to enhance the Teaching & Learning experience for our students? Recent examples of innovative Teaching & Learning activities from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield are used to illustrate how academics there 'are moving with the times'.

© 2013The Authors. PublishedbyElsevierLtd.

Selectionand/orpeer-reviewunder responsibilityofProfessorDr Mohd. ZaidiOmar,AssociateProfessor DrRuhizanMohammadYasin, DrRoszilah Hamid, DrNorngainyMohd.Tawil,AssociateProfessorDr WanKamal Mujani, Associate Professor Dr Effandi Zakaria.

Keywords: Education; Teaching; Learning; Innovation; Motivation; Peer Assisted Learning; Problem Based Group Learning.

1. Introduction

There are four key words in the title of this presentation: Teaching; Learning, Engineering and Education. Let us start by asking questions such as 'what is Education for'? The answers we give will be clearly personal and tinted with our own biases and perceptions. Is the function of education broadly social, especially when it is funded through the public purse, i.e. to allow citizens to receive learning in an area of interest to them? Is it to make the world a better place through the training of responsible and ethical graduates? Is it a passport to a well-paid career? Or is it to be seen in purely economic terms such as demand and supply, growth, globalization & competitiveness?

* Corresponding author.

E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of Professor Dr Mohd. Zaidi Omar, Associate Professor Dr Ruhizan Mohammad Yasin, Dr Roszilah Hamid, Dr Norngainy Mohd. Tawil, Associate Professor Dr Wan Kamal Mujani, Associate Professor Dr Effandi Zakaria. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.707

Similarly for 'Engineering' we can ask 'What do we envisage the engineers of the 21st century ought to be like'? 'What skills should they possess'? 'How many engineers does our world needs, or rather their world needs'? Following in the same questioning spirit we should also enquire 'Why do we Lecture'? 'How do students learn'? How do we engage and motivate students'? 'How do we develop our curricula'? 'How and why we assess our students'? 'Are our ways of doing things moving with the times'?

Once again, the answers to such questions are bound to be personal. However, as educators we should be aware that there is a vast wealth of information available to us in the literature that can make the answers to such questions much more informed [1]. We should not keep re-inventing the wheel but learn from the experiences of others and in the same spirit share our experiences and good practice with our colleagues and fellow practitioners.

2. What is Education for?

Once again let us start by asking the question 'What is education'? Following through with more questions such as 'Is it a global fundamental human right'? 'Is it the acquisition of knowledge and skills'? 'Is it the development of the ability to reason and think critically'? Is it a ticket to the economies and markets of the 21st century'? I am sure you can think of more questions along these lines.

If we consult the fountain of all knowledge Wikipedia, our answer would be something like 'Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts. In its narrow, technical sense, education is the formal process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another, e.g. instruction in schools'.

Etymologically the word has its roots in two Latin terms: Educare and Educere which although similarly sounding they have quite different meaning; 'to mould or to train' and 'to lead out, to conduct', respectively. In a similar way the ancient Greeks had two words for this process: 'nai5ayroyn°n' and 'EKnaiSeuon' with the respective meanings of 'to conduct, to move the children along' and 'to mould or train the children'. Our word Pedagogy originates there. Clearly what education meant to our Mediterranean forefathers was the physical rearing and training in behaviour of their offspring; they were concerned about their character and conduct as well as the acquisition of culture. A 'well educated' person of that time, a 'bene educatus' would have been someone who was 'well brought up', whilst someone educated in our modern sense of schooling and intellectual progress would have been an 'eruditus', someone who knows a lot.

Since the mid 1970s most "developed" countries have measured the "success" of universities on their capacity to produce skilled staff, professional workers, technical experts and lately flexible entrepreneurs for the economy. I believe this has been a narrow view and over the years is being reversed. Going back to my own roots and reflecting on the Funeral Speech to the Athenians by Pericles who emphasised that the duty of the state, the polis, is the creation of the citizen who lives through "the love and practice of beauty, the love and practice of wisdom and the care and responsibility for the common good". I do believe that education not only drives the development of intellectual capacity, but also provides economic benefits for those being educated as well as the greater society and therefore one very important Raison d'etre of a university should be the education and training for global citizenship. I also believe and that in order to tackle the big challenges facing us we can only succeed if we educate our students to take a holistic multidisciplinary approach and avoid looking through the prism of narrow disciplines. In addition, in a world that appears to be getting more and more connected at ever faster rates, our educational curricula must include this global dimension. Concepts of multiculturalism and interdependence, issues such as poverty, wealth, rights and responsibilities, conflict and co-operation, environmental concerns, all must become part of the education of the global engineer. Our students must be made aware of the relationships of the past and present and be given the tools to thinking critically about the future. Maybe we cannot predict the future but we can certainly anticipate it, or as engineers we can create it, as it will be shown in the next section. We need good ideas and lots of them; our education should be geared in providing creative, critically thinking

engineers who will envision probable and preferable futures; creativity will be as important as literacy. Our education systems must be pliable, they have to move with the times and they must be seen as the key to the solution of the major global challenges we are facing. If not, I fear we are in for difficult times ahead. To emphasise this point we can consider the metaphor of Peddiwell in The Sabre Toothed Curriculum [2], where he describes a society experiencing the traumas of transition as a result of the Ice Age.

In the pre Ice Age culture, which was essentially a hunting and fishing community, children were inducted by their elders into the essential skills of 'catching fish with bare hands', 'clubbing woolly horses', and 'sabre tooth tiger scaring'. This worked well for the tribe, because the scaly fish could be easily gripped with bare hands, the woolly horses were so deaf that it was possible to creep up behind them unnoticed, and the tigers were terrified by burning branches which could be lit from the camp fires and waved in their snarling faces.

Unfortunately the Ice Age came and went, bringing fundamental changes in the fauna and flora. The scaly fish were replaced by a smooth skinned variety, too slippery to grasp with bare hands; the antelopes that replaced the woolly horses were so alert and sensitive to sound that it was quite impossible to creep up unheard; and the ferocious glacial bears that became the principal predators were unaffected by blazing branches.

In spite of this, though, the core curriculum for the young people stayed the same as before, because of the reverence for the classical tradition of 'catching fish with bare hands', 'woolly horse clubbing' and 'sabre tooth tiger scaring' that had served their ancestors so well. Of course there were the occasional voices raised in protest. 'Wouldn't it be better', some argued, 'to teach our children how to catch fish with rod and line, how to snare antelopes with springy young trees and noosed vines, and how to trap bears in deep pits?' Such solitary voices preaching curriculum revolution were silenced and their ideas ridiculed and ignored.

In Peddiwell's allegory, it was left to archaeologists to unearth the remains of that society - a few phrases carved in stone by the village elders: "You would know that the essence of true education is timelessness. It is something that endures through changing conditions, like a solid rock standing squarely and firmly in the middle of a raging torrent. You must know that there are some eternal verities, and the sabre-tooth curriculum is one of them".

3. The 21st Century Engineer

If we tried to define engineering or what an engineer is, we would all come up with similar answers such as 'engineering is the application of science' or 'the use of science and mathematics for solving technical problems', or 'Engineering is the science, skill, and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge, in order to design and also build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes' (Wikipedia) and therefore by association, anyone who practices engineering is called an engineer. The US Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has a similar definition: 'The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behavior under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation or safety to life and property'. Interestingly enough, engineering is best understood in relation to other disciplines, as shown in Figurel [3].


Fig.l. Projection of different disciplines onto a plane defined by 'cultural' versus 'physical' and 'study' versus 'create'; Engineering is

the discipline focused on creating our physical world.

"Scientists discover what is, engineers create what has not been" said Von Karman and one has only to look around them to realize the veracity of this statement because for everything around us that is not natural (formed by nature), an engineer of some description had something to do with its existence. Professional engineers can be indeed acclaimed as the creators of our physical world but together with the kudos of their profession comes responsibilities. Dispensing the duties of a professional engineer, one must not forget that there are standards and codes of appropriate ethical behavior that must be followed; engineers are moral agents of change. If we want our students to aspire in being engineers, we must ensure that not only they master the scientific principles and appropriate mathematical and technical skills that are necessary to carry out their professional duties but we must also provide them with the facilities and resources to work at the limits of our current technological abilities and knowledge, but also impress on them that they also have the responsibility, as the future creators of our physical world, to make it more socially just and ecologically sustainable than the one they inheriting from us. We must give them the facts, make aware of the formidable problems they will face, which although inevitable are not insurmountable, and show them that through their actions they are part of the solution. This is the essence of good education: knowing the facts, seeking the reasons of why things are they way they are and finding solutions

to any dilemmas posed. I believe that education must have at its core a vision of the world we and our children want to live in. Education can provide new insights, it has the power to persuade and change minds, and in our interconnected world it can provide the links needed for us as a species to become actively involved in creating a different and better world.

What could be a better selling point for engineering to a young mind than the promise of a chance to being part in making their world a better place?

4. Teaching & Learning

Many of us involved in teaching engineering around the world we might have 'drifted' into teaching as part of our duties when we made the jump from a research into an academic role. We were given the task of lecturing to students at various levels. I am sure many of us, and I would be the first one to admit, we followed on the footsteps of those who came before us; our teachers. "I know how I learned, so I'll teach them the same way".

My own epiphany regarding teaching & learning came when I was asked to think of positive learning experiences during my long years of academic studies only to discover that the classes that I felt engaged with, the ones I recalled with enjoyment and the ones from which I can still recall what I had learned were very few; group laboratory work and group design classes. The rest of three years undergraduate and one year post graduate studies were a blur of lecturing classes where the only thing I recall is trying to keep up with what the lecturer was writing on the board. In order to find a very exciting learning experience I had to search back to my high school years when my teacher, having seen my love for his subject gave me the task of teaching my fellow pupils; "preparing and delivering the following week's lesson". That was an unforgettable experience for a 15 year old! There is your active learning, your peer assessment, your engagement, your motivation all rolled into one.

That is when I decided that maybe I had learned through my University years was in spite of being lectured at and not by being lectured at and that if I wanted my own students to get something out of my 'lecturing' I had better look more into 'how do people learn' and the relationship between teaching and learning. The way we see the problem is the problem.

Learning is by no means a simple or a linear process; it is a complex human experience so why not try to make it exciting and enjoyable. There is a vast literature out there that can get one started. There are theories developed over the years; the transfer theory where knowledge is treated as a commodity to be transferred from one person to another, the shaping theory where the learner is shaped to a pre-determined pattern, the travelling theory where the subject is seen as an unexplored terrain and the teacher as a travelling companion or guide, or the growing theory where the focus is on the intellectual and emotional development of the learner, to name but a few. Of course 'the more I read, the more I came to realize how little I knew about the subject. However, by immersing myself in this process of discovery and reflecting on my own practice I feel that with time I developed my own blend of teaching, my own hybrid theory that espouses bits of the various theories that seem to be in line with what I value in education. I put these into action and through the help of my students, reflecting on their constructive comments and criticisms, I embarked on a continuous spiral of personal development; life long learning in action!

Goodhew(2012)[1] summarizes the picture stating that regardless of the particular engineering sub-discipline:

• Active methods of learning are more effective in inculcating understanding (deep learning) than passive methods such as lectures.

• Engineering graduates will almost certainly work in teams when they enter employment and therefore group or team work should form a significant part of an engineering education;

• An engineering education must involve quantitative treatments of many topics;

• Learning is greatly enhanced if the student is fully engaged in his/her own learning, but this is not universally the case in most undergraduate cohorts;

• Technology is now available to support learning in a huge variety of ways;

• Many students regard feedback on their work as the weakest aspect of their engineering education;

• Embedding change (of curriculum or pedagogy) at school or department level is difficult.

Motivation, active learning, group learning, peer learning, peer assessing, synoptic learning, they have all been employed and reflected upon. It might seem like a lot of work but after all is it not part of the job we are being paid to do? .Thus from this body of knowledge "ordinary practitioners" - lecturers and professors striving to do the best for their engineering students - already know that they need to do several things. For most people, these would include:

• Modifying their teaching to use more active techniques and to involve the students in group or team work;

• Providing, via active learning or otherwise, experiences designed to motivate and engage their students;

• Exploiting appropriate technology now available to support students in their learning;

• Giving better, and probably more detailed, feedback on student work;

• Working to encourage their institution to modify its codes of practice to permit and encourage new methods of teaching, learning and assessment.

5. Examples from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield

• Embedding Learning & Thinking styles into Engineering Materials courses: Students gave the 'thumbs-up', but we need to ensure the students perceive the connections and the value to be derived from this exercise [4].

• Global Engineering Challenge- a curriculum innovation to inspire rather than assess: Recognizing the need to inspire students and develop graduates equipped to meet the challenges of an increasingly globalised world, the University Of Sheffield Faculty Of Engineering developed an exciting new faculty-wide non-credit-bearing project and skills week for all 900 first year student engineers. Projects based on the Engineers Without Borders Challenge acted as a vehicle for developing broad professional, employability and academic skills within a global engineering context [5].

• Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Materials Engineering: Having developed a module on Creativity, Innovation, Enterprise and Ethics, that reflects the continuous drive to educate the all round engineers highly sought after by employers and run it over nine years, we have collected enough evidence on both the validity of such efforts as well as their effectiveness in achieving their goals [6].

• Cradle to? Introducing 'Environmental Issues' into the teaching of Engineering Materials: In a recent restructuring of subjects taught in the Materials degrees during the 1st year of studies, it was decided to introduce a module that dealt with Environmental issues. The module was aptly named 'Cradle to? -Materials and the Environment' and was delivered through 24 lectures and 3 tutorial/problem classes in the course of a semester. As a module with content very pertinent to current issues and prominent in the public arena and media, the course has received unexpectedly mixed reviews having run for the first time in 2009. The module somehow failed to capture the imagination of the undergraduates against the expectations of the members of staff that put it together. We looked into the possible reasons of why this might have happened and introduced ways to rectify the negative aspects as experienced by the students who took the module [7].

• Use of a Research Role Playing Exercise to Fast Track the Development of Early Stage PhD Researchers: This paper reports on the student experience of a week-long group research role playing exercise, based on the manufacture of metal foams, developed for early stage PhD researchers. The main focus of the task is to highlight to students the critical transferable skills such as time management, project planning, literature analysis, personal relationship building, etc, needed for successful completion

of a large research project. This is done in parallel with a number of classroom based seminars on developing good practice in research. The task involved developing a process route for the manufacture of metallic foam within 3 days of experimentation. No guidelines were given on how the task should be undertaken and the groups were given complete freedom to plan, allocate resource, execute, analyze, and re-evaluate their strategy without any outside influences [8].

• Diploma in personal and professional skills for Centres of Doctoral Training - Managing by instructional objectives: Graduates need help developing transferable skills as well as the technical knowledge and expertise to succeed in their chosen careers. For this reason, we designed the 'Skills Diploma' that supports and certifies our graduates in these areas. Students record their reflections and development in their Personal Development Planning (PDP) log supported by tutorials. Sessions are interactive including work in small groups, short presentations, individual reflection, plenary discussions and structured tasks. Students are encouraged to take a reflective approach to their learning and to identify their own additional training needs.

The proposed learning outcomes for the Diploma have been aligned with Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Assessment is continuous and includes: class work, group presentations, report writing, peer assessment, web-based (guided) pre and post-learning, as well as web-based exercises and quizzes. Students also complete a 'personal portfolio' with a reflective analysis of their experiences, providing a record of their progress through the modules, as well as useful feedback for staff on how the modules might be improved for future cohorts [9].

6. Conclusions

The key words on the title are 'Teaching, Learning, Engineering and Education'. Yes, we do have long and well respected traditions in these fields of academic endeavor. However, although we respect our traditions we are always looking for new ways of doing things, continuous improvements and answers to challenges in all these fields.

To quote Albert Einstein "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them" and "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" and adding one of my own, "Lack of creativity and innovation leads to routine which gives a sense of security and stability, that in turn leads to stagnation, decay and eventual death"!

We are here to do things differently! We are here because we believe in continuous improvement. We don't subscribe to the 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' syndrome, instead we say 'yes this is great, but how can we do it better'?

We believe that we need to change with the times and indeed as professionals we strive to do so at every opportunity. We try to work with our students in the limits of our current knowledge and make them aware that all knowledge is subject to criticism and revision and that progress relies on continuous intelligent enquiry.

Clearly, however we define education, we see that it is closely related to the concept of learning and learning in a modern classroom has to flow both ways; both teachers and students should be seen as 'learners' in the process. Students should be seen as partners in learning and understanding, shaped by but also shaping their environment.


[1] Goodhew, P Teaching Engineering: Can we do it better? Proceedings of 4th International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2012, University of Sheffield, 19th-20th July, 2012, UK, Ed. P Kapranos & D Brabazon, 201, .pp 1-7

[2] Peddiwell J., The Sabre Toothed Curriculum, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1939.

[3] [Tryggvason, G. Apelian, DShaping our World - Engineering Education for the 21st Century(1st Edition). TMS, Published by John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2012 (Chapter 1).

[4] Kapranos, P. Embedding Learning & Thinking styles into Engineering Materials courses, 3rd International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2010, University College Cork, 1st-2nd July, 2010, Ireland

[5] Horn, R.P. and Murray P.B. lobal Engineering Challenge- a curriculum innovation to inspire rather than assess. 4'h International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2012, University of Sheffield, 19th-20fh July, 2012, UK

[6] Kapranos, P. (2010 b). Entrepreneurship & Innovation in Materials Engineering, 3rd International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2010, University College Cork, 1st-2nd July, 2010, Ireland

[7] Kapranos, P. Cradle to? Introducing 'Environmental Issues' into the teaching of Engineering Materials. 3rd International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2010, University College Cork, 1st-2nd July, 2010, Ireland

[8] Wynne, B.P. Hinchliffe, C.E. Prangnell, P.B. and Goodall, R. Use of a Research Role Playing Exercise to Fast Track the Development of Early Stage PhD Researchers. 4th International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2012, University of Sheffield, 19th-20th July, 2012, UK

[9] Kapranos, P. Diploma in personal and professional skills for Centres of Doctoral Training - Managing by instructional objectives. 4th International Symposium for Engineering Education, 2012, University of Sheffield, 19fh-20th July, 2012, UK, Ed. P Kapranos & D Brabazon, 2012,pp 298-306