June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Design in Engineering Education
15.1229.1 - 15.1229.12
The Engineering Paradigm: a Tree or a System?
This paper offers a new metaphor for the engineering graduate, and links this metaphor to the design and implementation of engineering education. The paper discusses current practice in Canadian engineering schools of teaching a range of Engineering Science and Engineering Design courses each as distinct stand-alone topics, and refers to existing literature on engineering education likened to a manufacturing process or network.
In the contemporary models of engineering education, each step in the education of an engineer is illustrated as flow through boxes in a process diagram. The students are thus likened to “raw material” passing through the system. The boxes are relatively static. In this view, the “design” expertise has traditionally taken a minor role compared with the engineering science expertise. The author proposes that this is not the only way to view the “product” of an engineering educational system.
The proposed metaphor presents the individual student as a whole entity, and compares each unique graduate professional to a tree in a forest. In this metaphor, an engineer “tree” can have an infinite variety of branches and leaves, while still retaining a core trunk of design and project management expertise which distinguishes them as an engineer. While the paradigm may sound fanciful, the author uses an example course plan from the Canadian experience to illustrate how this different paradigm can be more receptive to student interests, and to industry needs yet still support the foundations of the profession. The proposed paradigm shows that, in accordance with the role of engineers in industry, the ability of design, project management and teamwork are central, while the specific technical specialities are supporting “branches”.
It is an ongoing enterprise to continue to improve teaching models for young engineers, and to adapt those models to best fit the demographics of our students. All faculty teaching in the first few years of an engineering program understand how important it is to speak in terms that the students understand, and to encourage them. Its always a struggle for faculty, especially those of us the same age as our students parents, to keep our examples, and our language relevant to our teenage students. Thus, we need to continue to update. However, have we successfully updated the model in which we work? In effect, have we been thinking of our students in the same way that our own professors thought of us. Perhaps we need to look at a view of what we do, and the conceptual framework between us, our students, and our system differently.
A research study by Scott and Yates 1 identified a number of successful young engineers in Australia, as defined by their supervisors in industry. Many of these graduates were interviewed, and a collection of over 40 factors related to their successful work performance were identified.
Trivett, A. (2010, June), The Engineer: A Tree Or A Product? Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16129
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