What really excites me about educating engineers for the 21st century is the fact that I believe engineers are really going to be the ones that solve a lot of our world problems. Engineering is going through a transformation where we used to hole up in a room and design something without thinking about the interconnections between the world and our engineering designs. But now we are moving towards this idea of a more social engineer and I think that is a really exciting prospect for tackling some of the grand challenges facing society. I think that the holistic part is becoming more important and there will be more people that are interested in more holistic-type problems that come to the profession. However, I don’t think that all of them will be—we still need our traditional engineers. From my background, I prefer really to educate the ones that are more interested in that holistic side of things. And that’s largely because that’s where my research interests are. That’s what I do. And so, I think that excites me. But even for the ones that are interested in becoming a more traditional engineer, which again, we absolutely need, having that exposure and that awareness of how their designs and their work will fit in as they move through their careers is still very critical.
Learning technologies are a really exciting avenue for engineering education. I think the role here is to enhance student uptake of material and understanding of material. However, we have to be careful that learning technologies don’t become the governing factor in the education process. I think that the technologies that are available can really advance how we deliver material by providing multiple methods of delivery. I think this will help students overall, especially when you’re dealing with students who have diverse backgrounds that maybe have learned to learn in different ways.
I want my students to have an appreciation for the holistic environment that we work in; the idea that we don’t work in a box by ourselves, that everything an engineer does and designs interacts with the world, with society, with the environment and everything else. And so I think regardless of where an individual engineer’s interests are, having that appreciation is important.
The second thing is confidence in problem solving. In all of my classes, I want my students walking away saying, “Wow, this is a crazy, difficult problem, but I can do this.” And learning how to break problems down into the fundamental concepts and work through it. Whether it’s fluid mechanics, a class I teach often, or thermodynamics, or circuits, it doesn’t matter how difficult the problem is I want my students to have the appreciation and confidence to break the problem down and work through it step by step. Because really even with the most difficult problems, if you can do that you can solve it. I think it’s something that takes confidence and experience. That’s one of the reasons that I use the FLIP classroom designs a lot of the time. Because, it’s doing it. Something that is true for most activities, is that you become more proficient at completing them when you do them often. The more exposure you have to a particular kind of problem; the more experience you have to solve them in a proficient manner.
I honestly see very few disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage, I think, is push back from the students. The flipped classroom is often something that they either haven’t seen before or maybe they’ve had a bad experience with it. But, I think if it’s well designed, it’s a great method for teaching. That’s something can be said of any course; a lecture course that’s well designed is engaging, and so it’s effective.
The main advantage that I find is that I really can keep a pulse on every individual student and how they’re doing. Whether or not I interact with that student on a daily basis or not, just walking around the classroom, watching them work, I can look at their paper oftentimes and know whether or not they get it. And often see what the problem is. I can look at the work they’ve done and say, “Hey, I see you’re having some trouble here—let’s go back and revisit this.” And it allows me to give these “just-in-time lectures”. Let’s say I walk around the classroom, and see ten students out of 50 making the same mistake, I say, “Wait a minute, there was a misconception in the delivery of the material,” and I’ll stop the class and try to address the disconnect. So, those kinds of things are really advantageous. I spend less time explaining a basic concept in class. Instead, the students can get that outside of class and I am able to focus my efforts directly on the concepts students are having difficulty with.