June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Educational Research and Methods
14.438.1 - 14.438.6
Determining the Importance of Hands-On Ability for Engineers Keywords: hands-on, attributes, industry
Two challenges facing engineering educators today are: (1) to provide a curriculum that prepares graduates for the work of the twenty-first century; (2) to recruit more students to the field of engineering. A number of reports cite the shortcomings of current curricula1-4. For example, the traditional engineering curriculum does not prepare graduates to adapt quickly to new job requirements or to work effectively in the global economy or to solve the large complex problems of alternative energy, environmental protection, and homeland security. Furthermore, the number of students graduating with engineering degrees in the U.S. each year has remained relatively constant in recent decades despite the need for technical solutions to important societal problems and even as the number of degrees awarded in other countries has increased. Outreach to K12 student populations5 and greater flexibility in the engineering curriculum6 are recognized as important components of a solution to this problem.
Hands-on ability has an important role in both challenges mentioned above. Although engineering work in the twenty-first century will be increasingly sophisticated, practical ability and intuition about physical phenomenon remain important. In fact, the NAE cites “practical ingenuity” as one of the key attributes of the engineer of 20201. Because students today are less likely to have grown up in rural communities than their predecessors, they have probably had fewer opportunities to tinker. Instead of fixing the family tractor or the hay bailer, the engineering students of today and tomorrow will have lived a cocooned virtual life of video games and online chat forums. While facility with computers is advantageous, our curricula do not provide adequate opportunities for many students to overcome this tinkering deficit. More importantly, there is some evidence that low self-efficacy with respect to tinkering may even turn some students off from engineering7,8. We proceed with three premises: that hands-on ability is important for the engineering work of the 21st century; that hands-on ability enhances the enjoyment of and interest in doing engineering; and that hands-on ability can be taught. Regarding the last premise, some may believe that hands-on ability is an innate attribute or talent that differs by gender. Nevertheless, current scientific evidence suggests tool-use and technical ability is a common attribute of our shared lineage 9,10,11. Moreover, the scientific evidence that inherent talent plays a large role in vocational expertise is actually very weak, whereas, the evidence supporting the role of practice and experience is exceptionally strong12.
Our work has several goals. The first is to determine whether and why “hands-on ability” is important. Recognizing that “hands-on ability” is more than a motor skill, part of this goal is to understand the cognitive and perceptual abilities that are encompassed by “hands-on ability”. Another goal is to determine how hands-on ability affects student motivation, confidence and attitude toward engineering. A third goal is to determine which experiences are most helpful in developing hands-on ability. Finally, we are interested in identifying practices at the undergraduate level that can effectively teach hands-on ability. It should be noted that our work is focusing primarily on mechanical and electrical engineering students. There are several reasons for this: ME and EE are popular majors with large numbers of students; both fields have
Miller, M., & Bohmann, L., & Helton, W., & Pereira, A. (2009, June), Determining The Importance Of Hands On Ability For Engineers Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5243
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