Creating engineers fit for the 21st century: The challenges and opportunities for systemic change in engineering education
Ruth Graham’s visit to Eindhoven University of Technology, March 25th
That the 21st century is bringing about technological challenges for the society but also for the engineers is not new. What is not always easy is how to lead change in educational institutions in order to transform the curriculum and educate the engineers of the future. Ruth Graham, an expert in the field of innovations who has also evaluated the educational changes led by the Bachelor College, has been supporting universities such as MIT, the Royal Academy of Engineering, or the Danish Technology University, in transforming the curriculum.
Studying the educational context in different technical universities around the world (e.g. Penn State University, University College London, or University of Queensland) as cases, she came up with common characteristics on the conditions and mechanisms for achieving positive and sustainable change in the curriculum. These conditions are, for instance, having drivers for changes; the educational design of the new curriculum; developing a vision on leadership, and the approach to change and the strategies for sustaining change. However, an essential feauture for succes to sustain changes is to embed those in a coherent and interconneted curriculum. This, together with a strong sense of collective commitment to change are basis principles for change.
However, why is it that besides this recepe fo succes changes are not always sustainable after 5 to 10 years? The main reasons Graham’s explained were the need of having the faculty staff to value the positive impact on students and continue to appreciate change; with evidence to demonstrate impact on students. Some examples of resistance she mentioned is the faculty concern on the fact that the integration of soft skills into the curriculum inevitably may displace technical content; to change the focus from research to education; and finally, the faculty staff concern regarding the carrer development and the promotion that difficult is to achieve only with teaching activities.
To educate the engineers of the future, Graham’s advice is to include 25% project-based experiences (including first-year team project; and scenario-based experiences throughout the curriculm also interdisciplinary); and 60% engineering fundamentals including common subjects taught across disciplines; e-learning with dedicated facilitator.
Sonia M. Gómez Puente
Educational Policy Advisor
Applied Physics and Electrical Engineering (TU/e)