Phenomenography: An education research tool from, and for, education researchers

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What is phenomenography?

Phenomenography is a qualitative research approach that is increasingly used to investigate the differences, or the variations, in the way that  individuals within a specified population experience a particular phenomenon (Marton, 1981). For example, within education, phenomenography can be used to identify and quantify the different ways a given class of students experience a particular aspect of learning. More specifically, phenomenography my be defined as “a research method for mapping the qualitatively different ways in which people experience, conceptualize, perceive, and understand various aspects, and phenomena in the world around them” (Marton, 1986).

What are the origins of phenomenography?

Phenomenography originated from the research into  students’ experience  of  learning carried out at Goteborg University in Sweden in the 1970s by Marton and his colleagues (Tight, 2016). The main goal of this research was to understand, from the perspective of the students, the different ways they conceived of and went about their learning.

What are the assumptions underpinning phenomenography?

The key assumption underpinning phenomenography is  that there are only so many ways that a given population can perceive, understand or experience any given phenomenon  (Tight, 2016). The full range of different ways  that a given population experiences a phenomenon at any point in time is termed  the outcome space (Åkerlind, 2005). These different ways of experiencing a phenomenon can each be represented by a category of description, and these categories are hierarchically organised, with the higher-level categories encompassing the lower-level categories, and constituting a more developed way of understanding the phenomenon (Täks, Tynjälä, & Kukemelk, 2016; Tight, 2016).

Why is phenomenography appropriate for education research?

According to Marton and Booth (1998), learning comprises two aspects that are inextricably intertwined, namely the “what” aspect and the “how” aspect. The “what” aspect refers to the content of learning, and the “how” aspect refers to the way in which learning takes place. With respect to the “what” aspect, it is found that there is a qualitative variation in student learning outcomes. Similarly, with respect to the “how” aspect, it is found that there is a qualitative variation in learners’ approach to learning. Since phenomenography is a research method that focusses on determining variations in individuals’ perceptions and experiences of specified phenomena, it is well-suited to studying learners experiences and perceptions of learning.

When is it ideal to use phenomenography in education research?

Phenomenography can help educators to identify and foster learning approaches that facilitate a better understanding of the subject material that students are engaging with. This is consistent with research findings suggesting that different learning approaches lead to different learning outcomes (Marton, 1986).  As an example, Marton and his colleagues have used phenomenography  to identify and document differences in what students learn in specific learning tasks and to map these differences to the individual learning approaches that students adopt in the specified learning tasks (Marton, 1986). 

Phenomenography can also be used to uncover the different understandings that people have of specific phenomena and to sort them into conceptual categories. With respect to education, “learning, thinking, and understanding are dealt with as relations between the individual and that which he or she learns, thinks about, and understands” (Marton, 1986). Phenomenography enables us to understand these relationships, which, in turn, enables us to develop pedagogical interventions to improve the quality of student learning.  This is consistent with  Marton’s belief that  the goal of learning is to change  “the  way  a person  experiences,  conceptualizes,  or understands  a phenomenon” (Marton, 1981). 

How can phenomenography be incorporated into learning and teaching improvement?

Phenomenography is typically incorporated into learning and teaching improvement using this two-stage process (Åkerlind, 2008; Han & Ellis, 2019):

  1. Use phenomenography to identify variations in student experiences of the learning and teaching environment, including their perceptions and understanding of taught concepts.
  2. Implement strategies to shift students away from the less desirable variations to the more desirable ones, for example, by designing learning and teaching programmes that maximise students’ opportunities for discerning the full range of key features of the taught concepts.

What sort of research questions are addressed by phenomenography?

The typical research question addressed by  phenomenographic research is of the form (Booth, 1997):

  • How do the group of people we are interested in understand, or experience, this or that concept or phenomenon before and/or after studying it? 

As an example, Bucks and Oakes (2011) used the following pair of research questions in their study which sought to uncover the different ways that first year engineering students understand different programming concepts:

  • What are the qualitatively different ways that the conditional and repetition structures found in most programming languages are understood?
  • What are the ways that first-year engineering students understand these concepts?

Another example of research questions used in phenomenographic studies, is the research question formulated by Daniel, Mann, and Mazzolini (2016) in their study of academics’ experiences of the university lecture:

  • What are the different ways of experiencing lecturing?

Finally, a third example of typical  research questions used in phenomenographic studies is the pair of research questions that Fila (2017) used in in his study of  the ways that engineering students experience innovation during engineering projects:

  • What are the qualitatively different ways engineering students experience innovation during their engineering projects?
  • What are the structural relationships between the ways engineering students experience innovation?

Finally, what are the methods typically used in phenomenography?

Phenomenography is best viewed as a methodology whereby the actual methods used  in carrying out the research vary according to the specific question being addressed (Booth, 2001). Typical data collection methods include semi-structured interviews, open-ended questionnaires, written reports, video, think-aloud methods, and observation (Booth, 2001; Han & Ellis, 2019).

For small numbers of research participants, the semi-structured interview is often the preferred method since it provides rich and in-depth descriptions. For larger numbers of participants, the preferred method is the open-ended questionnaire since it is easier to administer and allows a wider range of experiences of a phenomenon to be captured (Han & Ellis, 2019). In practice, both methods are often used in conjunction as this allows both breadth and depth of variations to be covered in the data.

In line with most other qualitative methods, purposeful sampling in which the diversity of the sample is maximised to ensure a rich assortment of experiences is used (Booth, 2001; Daniel et al., 2016). The objective for this is to exhaust any variation in experience, and data collection is often extended until there is no further variation.

Data analysis consists of reading, analysing and categorising the collected data with the goal of identifying a set  of qualitatively distinct, logically related, ways of experiencing the phenomenon being investigated (Daniel et al., 2016).  This is an iterative process which continues until a stable set of distinct categories is obtained. Collectively, these categories constitute the outcome space of the phenomenographic study, and their dissemination is accompanied by descriptions of the essential aspects of each category, illustrated by pertinent extracts from the data (Booth, 2001).

References

Åkerlind, G. S. (2005). Variation and commonality in phenomenographic research methods. Higher Education Research & Development, 24(4), 321-334. doi:10.1080/07294360500284672

Åkerlind, G. S. (2008). A phenomenographic approach to developing academics’ understanding of the nature of teaching and learning. Teaching in Higher Education, 13(6), 633-644. doi:10.1080/13562510802452350

Booth, S. (1997). On Phenomenography, Learning and Teaching. Higher Education Research & Development, 16(2), 135-158. doi:10.1080/0729436970160203

Booth, S. (2001). Learning Computer Science and Engineering in Context. Computer Science Education, 11(3), 169-188. doi:10.1076/csed.11.3.169.3832

Bucks, G., & Oakes, W. (2011). Phenomenography as a Tool for Investigating Understanding of Computing Concepts.

Daniel, S., Mann, L., & Mazzolini, A. (2016). A phenomenography of lecturing. Paper presented at the 44th SEFI Conference, Tampere, Finland. http://sefibenvwh. cluster023. hosting. ovh. net/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/daniel-aphenomenography-of-lecturing-56_a. pdf.

Fila, N. D. (2017). A phenomenographic investigation of the ways engineering students experience innovation. Purdue University,

Han, F., & Ellis, R. A. (2019). Using Phenomenography to Tackle Key Challenges in Science Education. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(1414). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01414

Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography ? Describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science, 10(2), 177-200. doi:10.1007/bf00132516

Marton, F. (1986). Phenomenography—A Research Approach to Investigating Different Understandings of Reality. Journal of Thought, 21(3), 28-49. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42589189

Marton, F., & Booth, S. (1998). The Learner’s Experience of Learning. In The Handbook of Education and Human Development (pp. 513-541).

Täks, M., Tynjälä, P., & Kukemelk, H. (2016). Engineering students’ conceptions of entrepreneurial learning as part of their education. European Journal of Engineering Education, 41(1), 53-69. doi:10.1080/03043797.2015.1012708

Tight, M. (2016). Phenomenography: the development and application of an innovative research design in higher education research. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 19(3), 319-338. doi:10.1080/13645579.2015.1010284

Towards an understanding of the current state of Engineering Education

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Introduction

Kitty O’Brien Joyner (Langley’s first female engineer) Credit: NASA/Langley Research Center

Over the past two decades, employers, governments, and practising engineers have become increasingly critical of the current state of engineering education.  The consensus is that current engineering education is ill-suited for the modern engineering workplace.  Graduate engineers progressing into the world of work perceive a disjunction between the engineering education they have gone through and the engineering work they are required to undertake. On the political and economic front, governments fear that the products of current engineering education do not have the skills to drive the economic transformation that their nations need to remain competitive.

In this blog piece, I present five articles that can help you get an insight into the current transformations that are taking place in engineering education. The first article, from UNESCO, gives an overall insight into the global state of engineering education. Although this article was published in 2010, it remains highly relevant to understanding global practices in engineering education. The second article, from the National Academy of Engineering, takes us to the thoughts and discussions that took place in the United States at the turn of the century as they tried to determine the sought of engineer who would thrive and prosper in the 21st century. The third piece of work that I present here is Guru Madhavan’s book Think like an engineer, which, through stories and anecdotes, posits that the modern-day engineer is all these things – a problem-solver, a visionary, an innovator, and a pragmatist. The fourth piece of work is Goldberg and Somerville’s 2014 book in which they share their experiences in transforming engineering education in a start-up engineering school and in an established research university. My fifth recommendation is the MIT report by Ruth Graham which seeks to identify current and emerging institutional leaders in engineering education.

My five key readings

This UNESCO Engineering Report is the outcome of a collaborative effort by individuals and engineering organisations led by UNESCO that sought to highlight the importance of engineering to the solution of most of the problems and challenges that the world is currently facing. This includes issues affordable health care, energy, transportation, climate change, drinking water, natural and man-made disaster mitigation, environmental protection, and natural resource management. Authored by over 120 individuals, the report discusses what engineering is, and provides case studies of how engineering can be harnessed to solve the many challenges and problems the world is facing. Importantly, the report provides an overview of engineering and engineering education across the world. The challenges highlighted in this report have since been crystallised into the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the report is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand why engineering and engineering education are key to the resolution of these goals.

  • National Academy of Engineering. (2004). The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10999.

This book is the outcome of a project initiated by the United States National Academy for Engineering to envision the future of engineering and engineering education. The book identifies the key attributes and aspirations that we now associate with the 21C engineer. This is a useful reading for anyone who wishes to understand the motivations underpinning current engineering education reforms.

  • Madhavan, G. (2016). Think like an engineer: Inside the minds that are changing our lives. Oneworld Publications

This book was written by an individual with experience in both engineering practice and policy making, and it gives unique insights into the thought-processes of engineers. Drawing from his own experiences and using case studies drawn from a variety of engineering disciplines, the author suggests that engineers blend and structured thinking, common sense and creativity, and their own insights and personal intuitions into engineering problem solving. Importantly, the book highlights the impact of an engineer’s personal circumstances and background to the unique insights that they bring to engineering problem solving. This book is important for someone seeking to understand the engineering thought processes that are critical to engineering problem solving and creativity.

  • Goldberg, D. E., & Somerville, M. (2014). A whole new engineer. The coming revolution in Engineering Education. Douglas MI: Threejoy.

This book provides an insider perspective into the engineering education reforms implemented at Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering and the was the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The book gives the shared philosophy and vision underpinning the reforms carried out at Olin, a small start-up engineering college, and at the University of Illinois, a well-established, large, research university founded in 1867.  The book is ideal for individuals wishing to learn “from the horse’s mouth” what it takes to carry out successful engineering education reform.

This is a groundbreaking report that MIT commissioned to get a global overview of what constitutes the cutting edge of engineering education, and to gain insights into the future progression of engineering education. The report is based on interviews with 50 global opinion leaders in engineering education from 18 countries and addresses the following questions:

  1. Which institutions worldwide are considered the current leaders in engineering education?
  2. Which institutions worldwide are considered the emerging leaders in engineering education?
  3. What key challenges are likely to constrain the global progress of engineering education?
  4. How is engineering education worldwide likely to develop in the future?

REEN Engineering Education Research (EER) Journal List

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Looking for a journal in which to publish your Engineering Education Research (EER)? Look no further. The Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) has set up a dedicated EER Journals page on their website listing some of the key journals in the field. What I like about this EER journal list is that, in addition to providing links to each journal, they also outline the scope of each journal, together with an indication of the types of papers that each journal accepts.

The journals currently listed on the REEN EER Journal page (as of today, 03 October 2020) are:

  1. Advances in Engineering Education (AEE)                                       
  2. Journal of Engineering Education (JEE)            
  3. American Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE)                       
  4. Journal of Engineering Education Transformations (JEET)
  5. Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (AJEE)                   
  6. Journal of International Engineering Education (JIEE)
  7. Engineering Studies                                                                             
  8. Journal of Pre-college Engineering Education Research (J-PEER)  
  9. European Journal of Engineering Education (EJEE)                         
  10. Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering (JWM)
  11. IEEE Transactions on Education                                                         
  12. Murmurations
  13. International Journal of Engineering Education (IJEE)                    
  14. Studies in Engineering Education (SEE)
  15. International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (iJEP)  
  16. Journal of Civil Engineering Education (JCEE)

The Engineering Education Research landscape in Sub-Saharan Africa: Some insights

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Photo of Mt Kilimanjaro by Casey Allen on Unsplash

Introduction

The insights that I am sharing in this blog piece are the unintended outcome of a purely pedagogic exercise – to diversify the reading list of the MSc Engineering and Education at University College London (UCL). This MSc is designed for engineers, teachers of engineering and engineering policy makers who wish to develop innovative strategies to improve engineering education.

Over the course of the academic year, we introduce our MSc students to a diverse range of academic papers covering key topics in Engineering Education Research (EER). For instance, throughout the year students on the MSc get to engage with current thoughts and ideas in EER areas such as:

  • Entrepreneurship in engineering education,
  • Sustainability Education for Engineering,
  • Curriculum reform/transformation in engineering education
  • Ethics, equality, diversity and inclusion in engineering education
  • Innovative/transformative teaching in engineering education
  • Problem/project/challenge based learning in engineering
  • Active/Collaborative learning
  • Engineering Design
  • Internships/industrial experience,
  • Open and online teaching and learning

Background to this exercise

Most of the items on our reading list are from the West, for the simple reason that these are more readily available. Unfortunately, this tends to reinforce a primarily Western/Anglo Saxon view of current topics in EER. Engineering Education is a highly social activity, and we would like our students to explore various aspects of Engineering Education from a diversity of perspectives. We are especially keen for our students to explore through these readings, the various nuanced adaptations of standard methodologies like problem based learning across different regions of the world.

Moreover, our MSc is truly international, with students coming in from a range of countries all over the world. We want our students to bring along their own experiences and to critically evaluate these experiences in informed discussions with their colleagues who are from entirely different nationalities. Difference breeds creativity and innovation, and in designing the MSc we have specifically sought to make it a melting cauldron of diversities of opinions and thoughts, all fuelled by scholarly research from every corner of the globe. We are therefore compiling journal and conference papers on any topic in EER from regions and countries that are underrepresented in our reading list. This includes most countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

How we carried out the exercise

We carried out a search of EER articles emanating from Sub Saharan Africa. This includes countries like Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa and Namibia. We used the following databases – African Journals OnLine (AJOL), International African Bibliography Online, African Education Research Database, JSTOR, Web of Science, and Google Scholar. Searches were limited to English language articles focussing on EER topics such as engineering education transformation, engineering curriculum reform, Conceive Design Implement Operate (CDIO), active and collaborative learning, problem-based learning, project-based learning, and internships. We limited our search to articles from 2010 and onwards as our focus was primarily on current articles.

The emerging picture of EER in Sub Sahara Africa

The picture emerging from this exercise is not flattering. Most of the EER papers that we discovered were predominantly from two countries only – South Africa and Nigeria. In fact, these two countries contributed over 80% of all the papers that we identified. Some countries were not represented at all, with only single digit numbers of publications from countries such as Ghana, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Just to be sure, we visited the web profiles of academics at various engineering institutions across Sub Sahara Africa, and our results seemed to confirm our database search – very few engineering academics in Sub Saharan Africa write and publish EER articles. Invariably, engineering academics up and down the region, when they do publish, they tend to focus on hardcore engineering and science research.

We also sifted through the papers that we had identified. A significant proportion of these papers were from individual academics writing on their own reforms of the course modules that they teach. Papers on programme-wide and institution-wide EER issues, for example, curriculum reform, appeared only in a couple of South African papers.

Take-home lessons

EER is virtually non-existent in Sub Saharan Africa, except in Nigeria and South Africa. In addition, most EER papers are single-authored, ostensibly from engineering education enthusiasts. Indeed, EER in Sub Saharan Africa appears only to be a hobbyist activity, with no discernible institutional or national strategy driving it.

What does this mean for Engineering Education in Sub Saharan Africa? This gives rise to several possibilities – the most pessimistic being that there is a dearth of national and institutional strategies aimed at improving the quality of Engineering Education in Africa. This would be sad, given the thousands of engineering graduates in Sub Saharan Africa who emerge every year from engineering institutions without the skills required by industry, and who are therefore destined to a life of joblessness or underemployment [See Mohamedbhai (2015): Improving Engineering Education in Sub-Saharan Africa]. A less pessimistic possibility is that engineering institutions in Sub Saharan Africa do care about the quality of Engineering Education, and do carry out periodic curriculum reviews and reforms, but they do not always write about their activities. This would then raise several other questions: To what extent are Engineering Education reforms in Sub Saharan Africa research-based? Do reforming engineering institutions in Sub Saharan Africa share best practice, and if so, how do they do so, and with whom do they share the information?

Agreed, this exercise that we carried out is akin to an aircraft passenger looking out of the window at 38 000 feet and trying to identify landscape features far down below. But even then, this would suggest that there are currently no Mount Kilimanjaros in the EER landscape of Sub Saharan Africa. Hopefully, however, there are emerging hills and mole hills of EER activity taking place in Sub Saharan Africa, although they are still too small to make an imprint on the international EER radar.

When it comes to teaching innovation, there is little or no diffusion: Really?

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A recently published paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), with the rather provocative title “Innovative teaching knowledge stays with users”, is currently making shockwaves across the scholarly teaching community in the USA and beyond (Lane, McAlpin et al. 2020).  Jointly authored by 12 researchers from four universities across the USA, the paper reports on a study to reveal the social networking characteristics of academics who use innovative teaching practices. Research participants were drawn from 9 departments representing three science disciplines at three research intensive universities in the United States. The three institutions in question are the University of South Florida, Boise State University, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

In conducting the study, the researchers hoped that findings from the research would help to shed light on the diffusion process of innovative teaching practices within universities. Findings from the study suggest otherwise – when it comes to teaching innovation, there is little or no diffusion. This presents a conundrum to the scholarly teaching community, given, as it is, the immense amount of time, expertise and resources that have been put into the development and dissemination of innovative, student-centred pedagogies.

Innovative teaching knowledge stays with users: Overview and findings

The authors used a social networking survey to identify who amongst the research participants self-reported as having knowledge of, and routinely used, innovative teaching methods in their own practice. From this group, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 19 participants to find out which individuals they chose to speak about innovations in teaching, and why they preferred to speak to these individuals.  The researchers’ hypothesis was that academics knowledgeable and experienced in innovative teaching would talk mostly to those academics with little knowledge or experience of innovative teaching.

Contrary to expectations, findings from this study suggest that those with knowledge and experience of teaching innovation predominantly share their knowledge and expertise amongst themselves. In short, academics who are knowledgeable and experienced in innovative teaching are more likely to talk with colleagues who are also knowledgeable and experienced in innovative teaching. Reasons for this preference range from having similar teaching values, the need to share expertise and experience, being comfortable with one another, and down to the fact that it is convenient to speak to like-minded individuals. Less important were such aspects as shared teaching responsibilities, mentor/mentee relations, holding an important/relevant position, being on the same committee/conference/workshop, doing similar research or having similar appointment types.

In comparison, the study also found that academics with little or no knowledge and experience of innovative teaching were less likely to engage in conversations about teaching innovation, either amongst themselves, or with their more knowledgeable and experienced counterparts. Since conversations on teaching innovation are unlikely to take place between the more knowledgeable and the less knowledgeable, it follows that the diffusion of knowledge and expertise in innovative teaching is therefore unlikely.  

Diffusion of computational modelling across engineering modules: Findings and overview

The results correlate with the findings from a small study that I undertook to investigate the diffusion of computational modelling as a pedagogic tool across the Faculty of Engineering Sciences at University College London (UCL) (Nyamapfene 2019). This was after we had adopted computational modelling as the primary pedagogic tool in the first- and second-year engineering mathematics modules across the faculty (Nyamapfene 2016).

This study revealed that adoption of computational modelling pedagogies tended to be restricted to those academics who shared an interest in such pedagogies, and to those academics who had an active interest in student-centred learning and active learning methods. Such academics were more likely to be actively engaged in learning and teaching initiatives across the university, and they were more likely to express the view that their adoption of computational modelling was consistent with their views and philosophies of teaching. Some of these academics had actively contributed to the development and implementation of the Integrated Engineering Programme (IEP), the curriculum framework for undergraduate engineering programmes at UCL. For a brief overview of the IEP, see my November 6, 2017 blog piece entitled The UCL Integrated Engineering Programme: A Very Brief Guide (Nyamapfene 2017) and for a more detailed discussion, see our paper entitled “Faculty wide curriculum reform: the integrated engineering programme” in the European Journal for Engineering Education (Mitchell, Nyamapfene et al. 2019).

In summary, my study revealed that computational modelling pedagogies were most likely to be adopted by academics who already had an interest in innovative teaching methods, and by academics who subscribed to the IEP values and ethos. By the same token, the study suggests that academics who are less knowledgeable in computational modelling pedagogies, or who have little or no interest in these pedagogies, are least likely to adopt them in their own teaching practice. This is consistent with the findings by Lane, McAlpin et al. (2020) that conversations, and consequently, experimentation and adoption, tends to take place primarily amongst academics whose teaching values and approaches are consistent with the innovative approaches. In short, it is not enough to leave the spread of innovative teaching methods to natural diffusion processes.

Concluding remarks

The two studies above suggest that the diffusion of knowledge and expertise in innovative teaching methods tends to be restricted to those academics who have an intrinsic motivation and interest in the methods.  Those academics whose motivations and interests are elsewhere are unlikely to pay attention to these innovative pedagogies, let alone adopt them. How then can we resolve this situation?

Thirty years ago, Boyer (1990) made the observation that with respect to learning and teaching, the single most important consideration is the issue of faculty time. This is because academics tend to prioritise those activities that are highly prized in university reward systems. As he put it, “it’s futile to talk about improving the quality of teaching if, in the end, faculty are not given recognition for the time they spend with students.”  Even today, teaching remains underprioritised within higher education. For instance, a 2015 survey of teaching within UK engineering departments by the Royal Academy of Engineers (RAE) suggests that teaching quality tends to be relegated to a marginal role, with departments mostly preoccupied with research outputs and students numbers (Graham 2015).

As the RAE survey suggests, individual academic departments do not see a direct correlation between student numbers and the time and expertise invested in improving teaching quality. Student recruitment depends on several other factors such as the university brand and its location, and not just on the perceived quality of teaching. Given such a scenario, all that departments need to do to ensure an adequate level of student recruitment is to ensure that their teaching is reasonable, which, in practice, is a very low bar indeed. This is unlike research where there is a clearly discernible link between income and the invested time and expertise. As a result, departmental priorities, and, consequently, the reward structure in universities remains focused on research, and not on teaching quality.

However, as I noted in my June 14, 2017 blog piece, it is now retrogressive for universities to focus exclusively on research to the detriment of all the other things that universities need to be doing (Nyamapfene 2017). As I observed, the remit for the modern university has now expanded to include community engagement and enterprise (knowledge transfer and impact), over and above traditional research and education. This clearly calls for a diversified academic staff if the university is to successfully deliver its mandate across these multiple competing fronts. It is therefore pertinent that the reward system in universities should adequately, and equitably, reflect the multiplicity of academic career pathways that are now emerging.

References

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate, ERIC.

Graham, R. (2015). Does teaching advance your academic career?: perspectives of promotion procedures in UK higher education, Royal Academy of Engineering.

Lane, A. K., et al. (2020). “Innovative teaching knowledge stays with users.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: 202012372.

Mitchell, J. E., et al. (2019). “Faculty wide curriculum reform: the integrated engineering programme.” European Journal of Engineering Education: 1-19.

Nyamapfene, A. (2016). Integrating MATLAB Into First Year Engineering Mathematics: A Project Management Approach to Implementing Curriculum Change, IEEE.

Nyamapfene, A. (2017). “Progression for Teaching Only Academics in Research Intensive Universities: A Personal Perspective.” Engineering Learning and Teaching https://engineeringedu.press/2017/06/14/progression-for-teaching-only-academics-in-research-intensive-universities-a-personal-perspective/ Accessed 12 September, 2020 2020.

Nyamapfene, A. (2017). “The UCL Integrated Engineering Programme: A Very Brief Guide.” Engineering Learning and Teaching https://engineeringedu.press/2017/11/06/the-ucl-integrated-engineering-programme-a-very-brief-guide/ 2020.

Nyamapfene, A. (2019). Adoption of computational modelling in introductory engineering course modules: A case study. Proceedings of the 8th Research in Engineering Education Symposium, REES 2019-Making Connections, REES.

Inaugurating a pioneer in engineering education research, Dr. Bill Williams

Professor Bill Williams and Professor John Heywood are, undoubtedly, two of the finest engineering educators that Europe has ever produced.

Ireland by Chance

img_2510 Bill’s workshop on getting published in EER

Thanksgiving Day had a different look and feel this year. Here in Dublin, we welcomed Dr. Bill Williams to give his inaugural lecture as Visiting Professor in DIT’s School of Multidisciplinary Technologies.

Bill is an energetic and knowledgeable colleague, a close friend, and an excellent mentor to me. We have been working together on various projects since the day we first met, at a SEFI conference in 2012. Bill hosted my 2013 visit to five universities in Portugal, and we are currently co-editing a special focus issue of the journal IEEE Transactions on Education, the second special focus issue we’ve organized together. Because Bill has been so helpful in supporting my development over the years, I wanted others at DIT to benefit from his knowledge, experience, and helpful advice as well. He’s got a can-do attitude that is uplifting and infectious. And so…

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Addressing the Engineering Skills Gap: Lessons from the SEFI 2017 Conference Proceedings

(Talk presented at the 6th Annual Symposium of the UK & IE Engineering Education Research Network at the University of Portsmouth, 01-02 Nov, 2018)

Introduction

Since the turn of the century, employers have consistently expressed concern on graduate work-readiness in general, and a perceived lack of engineering and professional skills amongst engineering graduates in particular (Royal Academy of Engineering, 2007, Wakeham, 2016). This is despite efforts by engineering education providers to address these concerns. This study is an attempt to shed light on how individual engineering educators and institutions are addressing the perceived lack of engineering and professional skills amongst their students. It is hoped that findings from this study will stimulate sharing of best practice and hopefully foster sector-wide collaborative approaches to dealing with the problem.

For the purposes of this study, I used content analysis (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005) to review the contents of the abstracts of all the articles presented on the engineering skills thematic track at the SEFI 2017 conference. The European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI, is a network of engineering educators across Europe, and its annual conference is a key event that is highly regarded within the engineering education sector in Europe and beyond (European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), 2017b). Given the profile of SEFI within Europe and beyond, the deliberations at SEFI conference can give an indication of the current state of engineering skills provision within European engineering education.

Purpose of this study

The purpose of this study was to achieve four objectives. First, I sought to identify the key engineering skills that are currently the focus of attention within the engineering education sector. Second, I wished to identify at which level of the engineering education curriculum that these engineering skills are being considered. Specifically, I wished to identify whether the focus of the authors was at pre-university level, undergraduate, masters, PhD or early career graduate level.

Third, I wished to establish the unit of strategic focus of engineering skills provision, specifically, whether it is at module level, programme level, departmental or institutional level. Given the hierarchical ordering of education provision within engineering, a preponderance of provision at module level would indicate that the primary driver for engineering skills provision is mainly the individual academic, whilst a preponderance of provision at programme level or higher would indicate a more strategic departmental and/or institutional approach towards the provision of engineering skills.

Finally, I wished to identify current and emerging trends in the provision of engineering skills within the engineering education curriculum. Given the continued perceived gap between the engineering skills expected of graduates by employers, and the actual skills that graduates actually bring with them into industry, this study will be of interest to a number of stakeholders in engineering education. These stakeholders include policy makers in government and industry, employers, providers of engineering education, individual academics and students.

Method

Content analysis can be defined as “a research method for the subjective interpretation of the content of text data through the systematic classification process of coding and identifying themes or patterns” (Hsieh and Shannon, 2005, p.1278). In this analysis, I focussed on three items, namely the type of engineering skill(s) described in the article, the educational level where the skill is delivered, and third, the strategic level of focus, be it module, programme, departmental or institutional level. Using these categories, I reviewed all the abstracts of the 36 articles presented at the SEFI 2017 conference and published in the conference’s proceedings (European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), 2017a) .

With regard to the type of engineering skills, I used an inductive process whereby I extracted and categorised the skill types as I went through the abstracts. As a result, I came up with a list of  ten categories which, amongst others, included communication skills, leadership and teamworking, employability/engineering and professional skills, innovation and/or  entrepreneurship, critical thinking, Industry 4.0 skills, problem solving and design skills.

Results and Findings

The 36 articles presented at the SEFI 2017 conference focussed on ten skill categories. Thirty-one of these articles reported on engineering skills education at undergraduate level, whilst three focussed on masters’ level. One other article was directed at improving employability and professional skills for doctoral students, whilst another looked at the acquisition of professional and engineering skills in the workplace by early career engineering graduates.

Six of the 36 articles focussed on the issue of engineering skills within engineering education curriculum in general. Of the remaining thirty articles, fourteen focussed primarily on module-level interventions, whilst nine looked at programme-level implementation of engineering skills education,  and  three focussed on the implementation of engineering skills across the entire engineering education provision of departments, faculties and institutions. The remaining four articles looked at the delivery of engineering skills by means of co-curricular projects.

The main focus of interest of the 36 articles was on employability and professional skills. This was followed closely by innovation and entrepreneurship skills. Together these four categories constituted almost 50% of the articles presented on the engineering skills thematic track at the SEFI 2017 conference. Critical thinking, problem solving, communication, leadership and teamworking skills were also covered extensively at the conference. Together, these skills were covered in 41% of the articles that were presented. In addition, English language competence was also cited as important engineering skill.  Generally, coverage of these skills at the SEFI 2017 conference is consistent with the range of skills that employers perceive to be lacking in recently graduated engineers (Royal Academy of Engineering, 2007, Wakeham, 2016).

The analysis of the SEFI 2017 conference abstracts relating to engineering skills also suggest the emergence of new skills that engineering academics are focussing on. For instance, two articles focus on the development of graduate engineering skills for the emerging 4th industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 (Lasi et al., 2014).  In addition, it appears that academics are beginning to pay attention to the development of appropriate pedagogies for delivering engineering skills within the curriculum (Kersten, 2018), as evidenced by the coverage of the topic by two of the 36 articles in SEFI 2017 conference proceedings.

Conclusion

Findings from this study indicate that whilst academics primarily focus on the delivery of the key skills that have been identified by employers as inadequate in current and past engineering graduates, some are beginning to look at the provision of engineering skills that may be required in future workforces. The study also suggests that curriculum interventions aimed at improving engineering skills are mainly carried out at the level of the module by individual academics. However, as some of the abstract contents suggest, the issue of engineering skills is increasingly being addressed at programme level or departmental and institutional level. This may therefore suggests that academic managers and leaders are increasingly paying attention to the issues pertaining to graduate skills and work-readiness that employers have been raising consistently over the past few years.

References

EUROPEAN SOCIETY FOR ENGINEERING EDUCATION (SEFI). Proceedings of the 45th SEFI Annual Conference 2017. In: ROCHA, J. C. Q. J. B. J., ed. 45th SEFI Annual Conference 2017, 2017a Azores, Portugal. SEFI — Société Européenne pour la Formation des Ingénieurs

EUROPEAN SOCIETY FOR ENGINEERING EDUCATION (SEFI). 2017b. SEFI [Online].  [Accessed 21 September 2018].

HSIEH, H.-F. & SHANNON, S. E. 2005. Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis. 15, 1277-1288.

KERSTEN, S. 2018. Approaches of Engineering Pedagogy to Improve the Quality of Teaching in Engineering Education. In: DRUMMER, J., HAKIMOV, G., JOLDOSHOV, M., KÖHLER, T. & UDARTSEVA, S. (eds.) Vocational Teacher Education in Central Asia: Developing Skills and Facilitating Success. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

LASI, H., FETTKE, P., KEMPER, H.-G., FELD, T., HOFFMANN, M. J. B. & ENGINEERING, I. S. 2014. Industry 4.0. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 6, 239-242.

ROYAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING 2007. Educating engineers for the 21st Century. London: Royal Academy of Engineering.

WAKEHAM, W. 2016. Wakeham Review of STEM degree provision and graduate employability. London: Great Britain. Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

 

Teaching-only Academics in a Research Intensive University: From an undesirable to a desirable academic identity

Abstract of my Doctor of Education (EdD) dissertation – available at: https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/34169

Teaching-only academics now constitute a significant proportion of the academic staff in UK higher education. This thesis is a three-part study in which I sought to contribute to a more indepth understanding of the teaching-only academic role. I did this through an investigation of the career trajectories, perceptions, work-related experiences and academic identity constructions of teaching-only academics working in a research-intensive institution in the UK.

In the first part of the study I carried out a systematic review of the literature on teaching-only academics in the UK, Australia and Canada. In the second part of the study I investigated the virtual identity of teaching-only academics at the UK research-intensive institution. I did this by undertaking an analysis of how these teaching-only academics self-represented and projected themselves on their institutional webpages. In the third part of the study I carried out a life-history analysis of senior teaching-only academics in the engineering faculty of the case study institution.

A principal finding from this thesis, which is collaborated across all the three parts of the study, is that the teaching-only academic role is a non-homogeneous role comprising individuals who come from different backgrounds, have followed different career trajectories into the role, and have different academic identities. Findings from this thesis also suggest that whilst teaching-only academics were introduced as an institutional response to the demands of the RAE/REF, the very act of creating the role has further exacerbated the separation between research and teaching, and between undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Specifically, undergraduate teaching within the case study engineering department now tends to be the responsibility of teaching-only academics, with research-and-teaching academics increasingly focussing on research and postgraduate teaching. This separation has implications for research-led teaching, particularly in research-intensive institutions.

The thesis also reveals that despite the pre-eminence of research, teaching remains important within the university, and individuals on the teaching-only academic role are able to accumulate substantial, and valued, teaching-related academic capital. This capital, in turn, is enabling them to secure and advance their positions within the same institution, and to pursue career advancement through seeking employment in other higher education institutions.

Africa: The case for engineering curriculum transformation

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8976-6202

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently experiencing one of the most rapid economic growth in the world. However, unlike economic growth elsewhere,  this economic growth is not matched by a corresponding reduction in poverty (Filler 2014). Youth unemployment, and underemployment, remains high, and in a region where the youth constitute over 50% of the population, this is being viewed by policy planners as a ticking time-bomb. The main reason for this is that economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is primarily driven by minerals and commodities, both of which are essentially extractive processes that only require a low level of technical skill. To begin to move Sub-Saharan Africa out of its current levels of poverty to prosperity, significant investment need to be made in the manufacturing sector. This calls for relevant and up to date engineering skills.

Failure of Engineering Education in Sub Sharan Africa

An investigation by the World Bank has found that Sub-Saharan Africa  is simultaneously experiencing  both a shortage of skilled and experienced engineers, and severe unemployment for graduate engineers (Mohamedbhai 2014). This scenario is leading to a shortage of  engineering skills that is so severe that it has become a major constraint to economic growth in the region.  The main reason for university graduates failing to secure meaningful jobs within engineering is that they lack the necessary skills and experience to be employable. These graduates often end up  severely underemployed in non-graduate roles in both the formal and informal economic sector, and they are unlikely to ever  secure proper engineering roles over their lifetimes. Given that university programmes are often three or four years long, this constitutes a severe waste in terms of human and economic resources.

Why Engineering programmes are failing students and national economies

There are several reasons why university engineering programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa are failing. This includes a severe lack of funding, a shortage of  experienced  academics that is compounded by high staff turnover, and a lack of innovation in approaches to learning and teaching (Mohamedbhai 2014).  Whilst there have been some attempts to introduce student-focussed, active learning methods such as problem based learning in recent years, an engineering student in Sub-Saharan Africa is most likely to go through a content-led, teacher-focussed programme delivered by a relatively inexperienced academic team who primarily deliver their teaching in pretty much the same way they were taught during their student days. This is usually the deductive teaching approach that is characterised by a first year  that focusses on basic mathematics and science, followed by engineering fundamentals in Years 2 and 3, and ending with a focus on  realistic engineering problems and engineering practice in the final year project. Such an approach is theory-heavy and lacking in adequate  student-exposure to engineering practice.

Comparison with 19th century engineering education

Current engineering education practice merits comparison with engineering education in the period 1750 to 1850 when  advances in engineering took the United Kingdom, and the rest of the world,  from an agrarian economy to the industrial age. Then, the primary mode of engineering education was through apprenticeships, with prospective engineers learning their trade  from experienced practitioners. Not only that, ambitious engineers made efforts to progress their own learning by enrolling at the emerging engineering schools across Europe, as was the case with Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a man who played an important role in advancing the knowledge and practice of railway engineering, bridge building, tunnel construction  and ship building.  In addition, practising engineers also got together to form the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1818 with the primary goal of enabling them to share and advance their knowledge of engineering.

Of Isambard Brunel, it has been said that he was technically astute to the point of being ingenious, extremely bold in championing his ideas, and imbued with consummate communication skills that enabled him to seek and secure funding for his projects (Peters 2011). In short, Isambard Brunel was the technopreneur par excellence.  Passive learning, as experienced by students learning engineering via a deductive process, can never achieve these technical and entrepreneurial skills.

An alternative to deductive engineering education

Teaching-focussed, deductive teaching methods focus primarily on imparting theoretical content to students and offer little opportunities for them to put that knowledge into application. This is incontrast to the recommendations made by UNESCO in 1996 that an effective education should be guided by the following principles:

  • Learning to know – becoming inspired, discovering and exploring, developing a passion for learning, acquiring knowledge and understanding of ourselves, our immediate world and beyond
  • Learning to do – gaining skills, confidence, competence and practical abilities
  • Learning to live together – learning tolerance, mutual understanding and interdependence, sharing the experience of learning with family and friends
  • Learning to be – developing ourselves, our mental and physical capacity, wellbeing and autonomy, and our ability to take control of our lives and influence the world around us.

Active learning methods, such as the design-based Integrated Engineering Programme developed at University College London (Bains et al. 2014), are specifically designed to achieve all of the four UNESCO principles. In such approaches, students are introduced and taught engineering skills (learning to know), and, beginning from the first year of engineering studies, they learn to put this knowledge into practice (learning to do). Most of their learning is team-based, and is aimed at using engineering knowledge to solve problems and challenges within industry and within the communities that they live in (learning to live together). As the students progress from the first year to the final graduation year, they progressively transform into practising engineers with a sufficient theoretical and skills base that enable them to be immediately useful in engineering upon graduation (learning to be).

A connected approach to engineering education

Universities all over the world have often been labelled as ivory towers. This moniker signifies their isolation and aloofness from the real world.  However, the type of learning advocated by active learning methods can not take place in isolation. Students have to connect their learning to the real world, and they have to connect the knowledge that they are acquiring to the emerging knowledge in their fields by staying in touch with the current research in their disciplines.  In addition, students have to develop an awareness of developments in other related disciplinary areas by maintaining links with students,  practitioners and other knowledge sources in different, but relevant, disciplines.  A curriculum that facilitates all these links is referred to as a connected curriculum, and it enables students to acquire relevant theoretical knowledge whilst increasing their own relevance to their own professions (Fung  2017).  At a minimum, for an engineering school to develop an effective connected curriculum, they must engage collaboratively with industry, and with the local community, which, for Sub Saharan Africa, means engaging with the ubiquitous informal sector as well.

Working collaboratively with industry

Szirmai, et al (2013) argue that it is time that Sub Saharan Africa view the education system “not merely as a supplier of appropriately schooled labour, but as an integral part of the national innovation system.”  Such an approach would require educational institutions, public research organizations and productive firms to interact with each other at all levels. As expected , within the engineering context, this would involve more students gaining opportunities for internship with local companies. In addition to this, however, industry should play an active role in  the development and delivery of the engineering curriculum. Given the shortage of academics with relevant practical experience, industry should contribute to skills development by enabling their own engineers to  partner with university academics  in developing and delivering teaching. For instance, practising engineers could develop practice-based, realistic, engineering problem sets that are based on current industrial practice, and also contribute to project supervision as well.  Where problem based learning is used, the increased opportunities for interaction between students and the experienced, practising engineers enable students to improve their skills in engineering practice.

Acting as knowledge and skills hubs for the informal sector

The private sector in most African economies is dominated by small and micro firms, most of which are in the informal sector (Szirmai, et al 2013).  These micro firms often lack the capital and the skills to develop into full-fledged firms that offer reliable and sustainable employment opportunities. Universities could step into this gap by providing these firms with the necessary skills and knowledge. This could involve academics and students working with these firms to address the problems that the firms are experiencing. For instance, students can look at production processes  within a firm, and propose technological solutions that make production processes more efficient and cost-effective.  In this way students learn to apply their knowledge to real-life situations, thus preparing them for their own careers. Importantly, as well, students learn to be entrepreneurial, and by the time they finish their studies they will be better prepared to set up their own ventures, or be in a position to take up roles within aspirational firms in the informal sector, thereby making it possible for these firms to grow and eventually become part of the country’s formal sector.

References

Bains, S.,  Mitchell, J.E., Nyamapfene, A. and Tilley, E. (2014). Work in progress: Multi-displinary curriculum review of engineering education. UCL’s integrated engineering programme. Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 2015 IEEE, 844 – 846

Filmer, Deon; Fox, Louise. 2014. Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa Development Forum;. Washington, DC: World Bank and Agence Française de Développement.

Fung, D. (2017). A connected curriculum for Higher Education. UCL Press. Available at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/a-connected-curriculum-for-higher-education

Mohamedbhai, G. (2014). Improving the Quality of Engineering Education in Sub-Saharan Africa: World Bank Report

Peters, R.G. (2011). Brunel: ‘The Practical Prophet’. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/brunel_isambard_01.shtml

Szirmai, A., Gebreeyesus, M., Guadagno, F. and Verspagen,B. (2013) ‘Promoting productive employment in sub-Saharan Africa. A review of the literature’, UNUMERIT
Working Paper 2013-062.

UNESCO.(1996). Learning: The treasure within. UNESCO Publishing, Paris.

Practitioner Academics and the Lessons they have for Us

I used to love mathematics in high school. In fact, I lived and breathed mathematics. Everyone knew I was the go-to person whenever a mathematics question got too difficult. Then I went to engineering school, and everything changed. By the end of two years of rigorous engineering mathematics, all that remained was a loathing for mathematics and everything engineering. I was on my way out of engineering. Then I got taught by a highly experienced practitioner academic who loved his subject and who cared a lot about students and how they learn.

 In this article I go down memory lane to identify some of the key lessons that we need to learn from practitioner academics. I also draw from the experiences of a Stanford University alumnus to highlight the impact that good teaching can have on individuals and on society.

Engineer van Olst’s Electromagnetics Class at the University of Zimbabwe

I signed up for an option in electromagnetics in my third year at university. The course was taught by Engineer van Olst, then a 70-something retired engineer. He had seen service during World War II as a radar and communications expert, and his approach to teaching was like no other. I can only describe it as an immersive experience into the world of electromagnetics and microwave engineering.

Armed only with his walking cane, a slide rule, and pieces of chalk, van Olst drew us into the subject of electromagnetics, clearly explaining all the underlying mathematics behind the theory, and challenging us to use our prior knowledge of mathematics and earlier engineering courses to propose solutions to the problems that he posed along the way. Unlike the textbooks, he believed in the concept of “less is more”, and only introduced new concepts as and when they were needed. His teaching approach was a form of “lean” education which took us from a place of novice ignorance to a place of confident mastery in the basics of microwave engineering.  By the time the course ended, he had successfully turned us into budding engineers eager to go out and take on the world.

Engineer van Olst was a by-product of his generation. He hated calculators and computers, and was addicted to the slide rule. In place of mindless number-crunching, he taught us to think in an engineering sense. This included teaching us to use systematic estimation procedures and mental visualisations to arrive at tentative solutions. By the end, when I looked at a vector calculus equation, I could actually visualise its behaviour in 3 dimensional space, and in no time I was devouring the mathematics lecture notes that I had once loathed.  Through a passion for his practice, and a keen awareness of student needs, he restored my confidence in both mathematics and engineering, and gave me the necessary boost to take me through the engineering programme.

His approach to teaching opened up my eyes to the creativity and innovation opportunities inherent in engineering. His was not just teaching, it was an immersive apprenticeship into engineering, and to this day I’m glad I took his course. And this is  one reason why practitioner academics are famed for all over the world. They are adept at taking their practical and theoretical knowledge of engineering, infusing it with their keen awareness of student learning, and inspiring students to levels of competence that they never dreamed of. They are adept at turning demotivated and discouraged students into innovative and creative engineers who are ready and well-equipped to take on the world. They love their subject, and they love their students, period. They don’t deliver lectures; they provide immersive learning experiences.

Ed Clarke and the Smart Design Class at Stanford

Ed Clarke is another example of a practitioner academic. He runs the Smart Design class at Stanford University. According to one of his former students interviewed by Tony Wagner in his book entitled Creating Innovators: The making of young people who will change the world, Ed Clarke was simply the “best teacher at Stanford,” and his classes were “seminal points of his college education.” In the same interview the student makes this critical observation:

His class was about how to build stuff, nothing truly academic about it, but he creates more value than the research guys. Name any significant company in Silicon Valley, and in two degrees of separation you’d find your way back to his program at Stanford – Tesla Motors, many people from the Apple team, the list goes on and on – all people who are driving product creation in the valley.

Of course, this doesn’t exactly mean that research is overvalued in universities. It simply means that the impact of a good engineering teacher has a more far-reaching impact on the economy than what is generally assumed. Going by the student’s assessment, it is not inconceivable to assume that Ed Clarke’s impact on Silicon Valley, the United States, and all the other countries directly and indirectly linked to Silicon Valley technological companies runs into billions of dollars.

The University of Bath Electrical Power Systems by Distance Learning Programme

Closer to home, the teaching team on the Electrical Power Systems by Distance Learning programme run by the University of Bath is another example where practitioner academics have had an enduring world-wide impact. Established over twenty year ago, this programme relies on a core group of practitioner academics with solid experience in the Electrical Power Systems sector, and who have a passion for teaching. Over the entire twenty-year period, the programme was advertised primarily through word of mouth, and enrolment grew from year to year. In my own reckoning, at its height in 2010- 2012, this programme was arguably the biggest M.Sc. programme in Electrical Power Systems in the whole world.

The teaching team personally developed all the teaching material, and during my tenure with the team, I often challenged students to show me any textbook that did a better job at explaining key power systems concepts than the material. These study materials, and the general approach to teaching are based on a “less is more” lean education approach that is very similar to the one used by Engineer van Olst in my student days.

The programme has a residential component, where students engage face to face with the teaching team. These residentials are not just teaching components. They are more like Electrical Power Systems festivals where students and staff enthusiastically engage face to face to explore the field.  Students only need to attend one residential over the entire course of study, but most end up attending every year. Indeed, the teaching staff have successfully turned these essentially remedial teaching residentials into opportunities for immersive learning experiences.

Student projects constitute another high point for the programme. Student projects range from the practice-based to the highly innovative research-based.  They draw from the practical expertise of both the students and staff, and also from the ongoing research at Bath. These projects are not just the mundane projects typically found on other programmes. Rather, they are a by-word for staff-student cooperation, passion, creativity, innovation and inspiration. It is no wonder that graduates from this programme are highly valued by employers and on graduate research programmes.

Concluding Remarks

These vignettes that I have described in this article lead me to the following conclusions:

  1. Teaching in engineering should be context driven. Theory and practice should be woven together with the aim of teaching being to take the students to a higher level of understanding and practical engagement with the subject.
  2. Effective teaching in engineering is inherently activity based, even in a classroom where the only technology is a chalkboard. Students should actively engage in problem solving as part of the learning process.
  3. Although completing the syllabus is important, the prime goal for teaching in engineering should be on developing student competence and expertise in a particular area.
  4. Successful teaching in engineering is inherently a multi-dimensional interpersonal process. Students should engage with the teacher; the teacher should engage with the students; and students should engage with each other.
  5. Effective teaching in engineering is a highly emotive activity where both the teacher and the students should be emotionally involved.