Posts tagged ‘engineering education’

New NSF Initiative: Graduating 10,000 New Engineers and Computer Scientists

Interesting new initiative between the White House and NSF to increase the number of graduates in computing and engineering by focusing on retention. (I strongly agree, because retention is where we’ve been focusing our attention.)

This letter announces a cooperative activity between NSF and members of the Jobs Councils High Tech Education working group, led by Intel and GE, to stimulate comprehensive action at universities and colleges to help increase the annual number of new B.S. graduates in engineering and computer science by 10,000. Proposals for support of projects would be submitted under a special funding focus Graduate 10K+ within the NSF Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program STEP, see

Studies have shown that retention during the critical first two years in a students major, or along the path towards declaration of a major, is an excellent predictor of eventual graduation with a STEM degree. Recognizing that the correlation between retention and graduation is particularly strong for students in engineering and computer science, we invite proposals from institutions that can demonstrate their commitment to:(i) significant improvement in first and second year retention rates in these particular majors, beyond current levels; and (ii) sustained, institutionally-embraced practices e.g. that lead, ultimately, to increased graduation. Jobs Council members anticipate providing support for this special funding focus, with the number of awards to be made contingent on the availability of funds.

via US NSF – Dear Colleague Letter – Graduating 10,000 New Engineers and Computer Scientists – A Partnership between the Presidents Jobs Council and NSF Graduate 10K+ NSF12108.

September 19, 2012 at 9:35 am 2 comments

New conference: LaTiCE 2013 on Computing and Engineering Education

The Uppsala University Computing Education Research Group has to be one of the largest in the world at a single university.  Their members include several prolific leaders in the field.  They’re organization a new conference LaTICE 2013: Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering. “The aim of the Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering (LaTiCE) conference is to review and develop current practices and research now being done in computing and engineering education. The conference serves to facilitate introduction for potential partners and themes for future international collaboration and research in the field.”

UpCERG conducts research in Computing and Engineering Education, with a focus on student understanding and support for innovative curriculum development. UpCERG research areas include Globalisation and Culture, Student Conceptions and Ways of Understanding Computing, Learning Professional Skills, and Technology Supported Education.

Our research is driven by a desire to contribute to the body of Scholarship of Learning and Teaching that informs educational practice. The aim is to explore and develop undergraduate and graduate education in computing, and related fields, through the use of rigorous research methods. Research foci are chosen with a view to their potential impact on computing and engineering education.

via UU/IT/research/group/upcerg_new.

July 1, 2012 at 2:26 am Leave a comment

Congratulations to Stephen Edwards and Virginia Tech: An endowed chair for innovation in engineering education

I’ve never heard of an endowed chair for engineering education at a research-intensive university.  Bravo to Virginia Tech for creating such a position (and his colleagues for recommending him), and congratulations to Stephen Edwards for receiving it! A well-deserved honor!

At its June meeting, Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors confirmed the appointment of Virginia Tech’s Stephen Edwards, associate professor of computer science, as the new recipient of the W.S. “Pete” White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education, effective Aug. 10, 2012.

The W.S. “Pete” White Chair for Innovation in Engineering Education was established by American Electric Power to honor Pete White, a 1948 graduate of Virginia Tech, and to encourage new interest in the teaching of engineering and improve the learning process.

Edwards’ colleagues in the computer science department submitted the recommendation on his behalf. Cal Ribbens, the department’s associate head for undergraduate studies, cited Edwards as “easily one of the most innovative and energetic faculty members I have known in my 25 years at Virginia Tech.”

via Stephen Edwards named to an endowed chair for innovation in engineering education |

June 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

Massive open, on-line courses: With the faculty, or against the faculty?

I found this piece on MITx interesting in contrast with my visit to Stanford.  At Stanford, it’s pretty clear that they’re doing the on-line courses because the faculty want them.  This article suggests that, at MIT, the administration (mostly represented in this piece by an interview with the MIT Chancellor) wants the courses, but the faculty are more dubious.

In a provocative essay in the latest edition of MIT’s faculty newsletter, Woodie Flowers, an emeritus professor of mechanical engineering, draws a distinction between training and education. “Education is much more subtle and complex and is likely to be accomplished through mentorship or apprentice-like interactions between a learner and an expert,” Flowers wrote, quoting from one of his own lectures. The “sweet spot for expensive universities such as MIT,” he continued, is a blend of “highly-produced training systems” and a high-touch apprenticeship model that emphasizes direct interactions between faculty and students. “MITx,” Flowers contends, “seems aimed at neither”

Samuel Allen, a professor of metallurgy and chair of the MIT faculty, wrote an essay for the same issue of the newsletter that struck a less critical tone but also raised questions about the implications of inexpensive online iterations of the university’s curricular offerings. “If MITx is wildly successful, what is the future of the residential education experience that has been our mode of teaching for MIT’s entire history?” Allen wrote. “If students can master course materials online for free (or for a modest ‘credentialing’ fee), what incentives would there be for anyone to invest in an expensive residential college education?”

via How could MITx change MIT? | Inside Higher Ed.

April 19, 2012 at 8:02 am 5 comments

Claim: Mr. President, there is no engineer shortage, at least compared to China

Interesting response to President Obama’s call for creating many more engineers, which has started from the claim that we’re not being competitive with China’s production of engineers. This article from the Washington Post suggests that there isn’t a shortage of engineers at all in the US. It feels like the problem of determining whether or not we have enough CS enrollment — what’s “enough”?

What’s more, China’s tally of 350,000 was suspect because China’s definition of “engineering” was not consistent with that of U.S. educators. Some “engineers” were auto mechanics or technicians, for example. We didn’t dispute that China was and is dramatically increasing its output of what it calls engineers. This year, China will graduate more than 1 million (and India, close to 500,000). But the skills of these engineers are so poor that comparisons don’t make sense. We predicted that Chinese engineers would face unemployment. Indeed, media reports have confirmed that the majority of Chinese engineers don’t take engineering jobs but become bureaucrats or factory workers.

Then there is the question of whether there is a shortage of engineers in the United States. Salaries are the best indicator of shortages. In most engineering professions, salaries have not increased more than inflation over the past two decades. But in some specialized fields of software engineering in Silicon Valley and in professions such as petroleum engineering, there have been huge spikes. The short answer is that there are shortages in specific fields and in specific regions, but not overall. Graduating more of the wrong types of engineers is likely to increase unemployment rather than create jobs.

via President Obama, there is no engineer shortage – The Washington Post.

December 26, 2011 at 9:47 am 6 comments

Does Engineering in K-12 work? UK vs US

I didn’t know that Engineering was a “foundation subject” and “compulsory” in the UK elementary school curriculum.  The article below makes it sound really great.  The part that I’m wondering about is whether the UK is having more luck filling their STEM classes than we are in the US.  My perception was that the whole of the Western world was having trouble enticing kids into STEM.  If UK has had engineering in the elementary school curriculum for 20 years, but is ending up with the same problems getting students to major in STEM, maybe the argument is weakened that we should put Engineering and Computing into elementary school to help bolster enrollments?

The way the U.K. teaches engineering is a lot more exciting these days. The curriculum has evolved from making matchbox holders in woodworking to designing circuit boards and electronics. Design and Technology, D&T, was introduced around 20 years ago and takes a holistic approach to learning. Science and math principles are taught through hands-on activities, not through rote learning. Students learn by making things, making mistakes and learning from both. D&T can help shape the next generation of engineers.

While D&T is growing in the U.K., it’s all but absent in the U.S. At a time when engineering is in such high demand, D&T should be considered as part of the school day. Science and engineering vacancies are anticipated to grow 70 percent faster than other jobs, but there won’t be enough qualified people to fill them. With China trending to overtake the U.S. as the number one economy, ensuring the next generation is equipped with the skills needed to engineer the future is paramount.

via The Missing Link Between STEM Education and Jobs of the Future – James Dyson – Technology – The Atlantic.

June 30, 2011 at 1:46 am 3 comments

Can we create K-12 engineering standards?

The issues being raised here are pretty similar for computing.  Should we create computing standards for K-12?  Like engineering, computing cuts across the curriculum, and like engineering, it’s not clear that we can ramp up the infrastructure enough to achieve rigorous standards.

With efforts to ensure U.S. competitiveness in a global economy revolving around stronger STEM education, some policy makers are looking at whether it makes sense to include engineering standards for K-12 education. But the ability to establish a national set of standards for K-12 engineering education might still be out of reach, according to a new study from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

The study, “Standards for K-12 Engineering Education?” claims that “although the main ideas in K-12 engineering education are largely agreed upon, data based on rigorous research on engineering learning at the K-12 level are still not sufficient to develop learning progressions that could be reflected as standards.”

via Study points to uncertainty of K-12 engineering standards | Curriculum |

November 7, 2010 at 7:19 am 1 comment

Engineering is Elementary®: Is Computing?

People were asking me about this at ICLS this last week — does anything like this exist for computer science, or computing education generally?  This is more than a repository.  This is a project of Boston’s Museum of Science to generate and sell material to fill various curricular holes, in support of engineering education at the K-12 level.

The Engineering is Elementary® EiE project fosters engineering and technological literacy among children. EiE is creating a research-based, standards-driven, and classroom-tested curriculum that integrates engineering and technology concepts and skills with elementary science topics. EiE lessons not only promote K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics STEM learning, but also connect with literacy and social studies.Storybooks featuring children from a variety of cultures and backgrounds introduce students to an engineering problem. Students are then challenged to solve a problem similar to that faced by the storybook character. Through a hands-on engineering design challenge, students work in teams to apply their knowledge of science and mathematics; use their inquiry and problem-solving skills; and tap their creativity as they design, create, and improve possible solutions. In the end, students realize that everyone can engineer!

via Engineering is Elementary®.

July 3, 2010 at 3:13 pm 2 comments

Studying Engineering before they can spell it

I noticed that this article starts one paragraph with the phrase “Supporters say that engineering reinforces math and science skills,” but offers no phrase starting with “critics say.”  Still, I like the idea of starting kids out early in building and designing things, and reflecting on how they do it.  I do agree with Janine Remillard’s concern about teaching.  We know how challenging it is to teach high school teachers to become computing educators.  How hard is it to get kindergarten teachers to become engineering educators?

All 300 students at Clara E. Coleman Elementary School are learning the A B C’s of engineering this year, even those who cannot yet spell e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-i-n-g. The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.

via Many Schools Teach Engineering in Early Grades –

June 15, 2010 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

Education as a (Software) Engineering Endeavor

This article in USA Today hit home for me, since it touches on a frequent accusation about Media Computation: That we’re getting higher success rates simply by lowering standards.  Give kids higher grades and they won’t fail — that’s easy!  After peer-reviewed, published studies at four schools, with four very different grading standards and multiple teachers, I don’t think that’s a reasonable accusation.  The issue is still there, of course — to what standards do we hold students, especially non-majors?  I think that that’s Alan’s point in his recent guest blog post here.  When I read the USA Today piece, I get the sense that this teacher was really doing the right things to achieve the standards as she perceived them.  The problem arose because of a difference in perceived standards between her and the administration.

Dominique G. Homberger won’t apologize for setting high expectations for her students. The biology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge gives brief quizzes at the beginning of every class, to assure attendance and to make sure students are doing the reading. On her tests, she doesn’t use a curve, as she believes that students must achieve mastery of the subject matter, not just achieve more mastery than the worst students in the course. For multiple choice questions, she gives 10 possible answers, not the expected 4, as she doesn’t want students to get very far with guessing.

Students in introductory biology don’t need to worry about meeting her standards anymore. LSU removed her from teaching, mid-semester, and raised the grades of students in the class. In so doing, the university’s administration has set off a debate about grade inflation, due process and a professor’s right to set standards in her own course.

via LSU removes tough professor, raises students’ grades –

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Education is really a kind of Engineering, and in particular, it shares a lot in common with Software Engineering.  The suggestion is that some of the better practices of Software Engineering could be used to improve Education.   When I was a graduate student, I took classes from Bob Kozma, famous (in part) for his public debate with Richard Clark on the role of media in learning. Bob had all of us read Simon’s Sciences of the Artificial, because we want Education to be a Science of design decisions in learning. We explicitly talked about Education as “Psychology Engineering” — the practice of influencing students’ minds in ways society had deemed appropriate.  That definition is not for the squeamish, but it’s not new either.  Plato’s Republic defined education as enculturation, turning children into citizens who hold dear the social values.  Of course, we want students to be innovative, free-thinkers — because that’s what our society values and needs, in a technological, capitalist democracy.

Education and Software Engineering both have a problem of way too many degrees of freedom.  Software is pure mind-stuff.  Engineering of that Software requires discipline and limitations on how freely we allow software expression.  A brilliant developer could produce a fabulous piece of software that is completely illegible to anyone else and thus non-maintainable — and Software Engineers would reject that great piece of software as bad Engineering, and appropriately so.  On the other side, people learn ALL the time.  The challenge of Education is to get them to learn what society values, what we need citizens to know and value.  A great Teacher might inspire students to go forth and learn such that they are wonderful citizens in 20 years, but we might not be able to see what he or she was doing in the classroom now that was achieving that goal.  What if held Educators to the same standards and discipline as Software Engineers?

So let’s play out this analogy a little:

Unit-Testing: The USA Today article highlights a problem of ill-defined, non-testable requirements that we often have in education.  What if we practiced unit-testing in education, to match the best practice in software engineering?  Before you teach something, you define the test for it, and get everyone to agree that the goal and test are reasonable.  I do argue with one point in the USA Today piece.  I don’t think professors have the right to set their own standards for their classroom.  We all do, and in upper-level, terminal courses, it may not matter.  But if we have a curriculum, a system, then the pieces have to fit together, so we all have to agree to the standards.

Peer Review: In my College, we have resisted peer review of teaching, on the “Great and Inspiring Teacher” argument.  A great teacher influences students such that they don’t realize for a year or more what they learned.  The great teacher inspires students to go forth and learn on their on.  That feels to me like the argument protecting the brilliant-but-illegible software developer.  Just how many of those are there?  And how many lousy and unproductive teachers/developers are you protecting because you’re not checking?

What if we defined teaching as “practice that clearly and verifiability can be expected to result in the desired learning outcome for a reasonably prepared set of students.” Then we can go and watch a teacher, and ask for the reasonable rationale for why that set of interventions should result in the desired learning outcome.  We’d have to be prepared to fire a teacher who, while inspiring, was not visibly, verifiably achieving the desired learning outcomes.

Model-checking: I am not an eager proponent of proving programs correct, because I am a fan of Perlis, Lipton, and DeMillo and I don’t believe it will work.  However, I am a big fan of testing and verifying software (and design decisions, more generally), and in that sense, I like the idea of model checking.  I am beginning to believe that the most important factor in the success of cognitive tutors is that they require the developer/instructor to define the instructional model to a level of detail where each step can be checked for reasonableness.  “Could a student learn this small step in this amount of time/effort?  Could all these steps be assembled in such a way to achieve the overall goal?”

In general Education, we don’t make these checks, so we create curricula that have great big ballooning “Magic Happens Here” bubbles in them.  “CS1 is really hard, so we don’t expect too much there, so CS2 doesn’t get well-prepared students, and then there are a bunch of electives — and then our students program the Space Shuttle!”  We do want CS1 to be simple (but not “too simple”), and do we want our students to go on to great things, but we ought to check if we can really get from here to there. James Duderstadt’s Millenium Center at the University of Michigan did such an analysis of Engineering Education and came to the conclusion that an undergraduate degree didn’t cut it.  Duderstadt argues that we need Engineers to get a four-year liberal arts degree, and then an Engineering Professional degree.  That may be what we need for Computing, too. We should do the analysis! We should build a model and check it.  Can we get from here to there in the steps we have allowed ourselves?  If not, then change the expected outcomes, change the initial state (more K-12 CS, anyone?), or change the amount of time (number of steps) we give ourselves.

Education is a form of Engineering.  There’s no question about that.  The question is whether we adopt Engineering practices in Education.  I’m arguing that Software Engineering has some practices and affinities with Education that make sense.

April 29, 2010 at 9:59 am 14 comments

Engineering as a Context for Education

I admit up-front that I did not hold out much hope for the new report from the National Academies “Engineering in K12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects.” As a new, untenured assistant professor in educational technology at Georgia Tech, I did a lot of my early work in engineering education.  Engineering is the 800 pound gorilla on campus, and that’s where the greatest learning needs and opportunities were.

I tired of banging my head against the infrastructural challenges of Engineering education.  My collaborators in Engineering were warned against  working in education.  One was told by his chair that every publication in Journal of Engineering Education would count as a negative publication: “Not only was it a useless publication, but it was time wasted that could have been spent on a real publication.”  Graduate students in Engineering wouldn’t work with us because they feared that it would hurt their progress.  Senior faculty in education mocked reform efforts. One Civil Engineering professor I interviewed told me at length why undergraduates should never collaborate (“It prevents real learning”). When I pointed out that ABET accreditation guidelines required collaboration, he just smiled and said, “Yeah, that’s what they say. We know how to get around those rules.”

When I got tenure, I decided to focus just on computing education.  We have many of the same attitudes among our faculty, but I care more about our problems.  I’m willing to bang my head against the wall for longer.

Nowadays, I promote a strategy of using context to motivate and sustain engagement with computing education.  I’m pleased to see a similar idea in the new National Academies report:

How might engineering education improve learning in science and mathematics? In theory, if students are taught science and mathematics concepts and skills while solving engineering or engineering-like problems, they will be able to grasp these concepts and learn these skills more easily and retain them better, because the engineering design approach can provide real-world context to what are otherwise very abstract concepts.

I don’t agree that it’s the “design approach” that provides the real-world context, but I completely agree with the rest.  It’s like the approach that Owen Astrachan has been emphasizing — the power of the problem that students address. The engineers are saying that they own “real-world context” more than scientists and mathematicians, and I think they’re right.   Now I’m actually looking forward to reading the rest of the report.

September 16, 2009 at 10:45 am 4 comments

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