Case Version: What Engineers Don't Learn


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This talk, presented at Case Western Reserve University on Friday, 20 February 2009, as part of the Latest Word Seminar Series, discusses (1) 7 qualitative thinking skills engineers don't learn (the missing basics), (2) 5 reasons they don't learn them, and (3) considers ways to fix the problem organizationally, philosophically, and politically.

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Case Version: What Engineers Don't Learn

  1. 1. What Engineers Don’t Learn & Why They Don’t Learn It: A Cold War Curriculum in a Creative Era & How to Fix It David E. Goldberg Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Urbana, IL 61801 USA [email_address]
  2. 2. Engineering Reform is in the Air <ul><li>Many calls for reform. </li></ul><ul><li>Many lists the same: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Need more “design.” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need more “soft” people skills. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Need better “communications.” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Change has come slowly, if at all. </li></ul><ul><li>Steadfast defense of “the basics” against foreign invaders. </li></ul><ul><li>Reflect on missing elements & why they’re missing. </li></ul><ul><li>Especially important in our creative times. </li></ul><ul><li>A warning. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  3. 3. Roadmap <ul><li>Reflections upon 19 years coaching industrial-sponsored senior design. </li></ul><ul><li>7 things engineers don’t learn. </li></ul><ul><li>5 reasons they don’t learn them: philosophical, historical, organizational, systemic & economic. </li></ul><ul><li>Moving the larger system: Political realignment for organizational realignment. </li></ul><ul><li>Philosophy as realignment aid. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  4. 4. General Engineering & Sr Design <ul><li>General Engineering at UIUC established in 1921 following curriculum study. </li></ul><ul><li>Grinter report of 1954 led to more math and engineering science at expense of design. </li></ul><ul><li>UCLA conference 1962. </li></ul><ul><li>Ford Foundation grant 1966. </li></ul><ul><li>Money ran out 1971. </li></ul><ul><li>Industrial funding supports thereafter. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Jerry S. Dobrovolny
  5. 5. Ready, Set, Go <ul><li>These are seniors. </li></ul><ul><li>Should be engineers on the threshold. </li></ul><ul><li>Express preferences for projects. </li></ul><ul><li>Get assigned to a project: 3-member teams & faculty advisor. </li></ul><ul><li>Go on the plant trip. </li></ul><ul><li>Query: What don’t they know how to do? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  6. 6. Failure 1: Inability to Ask <ul><li>Don’t know how to frame or ask good questions. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty probing the problem. </li></ul><ul><li>Trouble following what has been tried. </li></ul><ul><li>Problems finding out vendors and sources of information. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: Socrates 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Socrates (470-399 BCE)
  7. 7. Failure 2: Inability to Label <ul><li>Don’t know names of common systems, assemblies, and components of technology. </li></ul><ul><li>Difficulty labeling new artifact concepts or models. </li></ul><ul><li>Linguistically naïve. </li></ul><ul><li>Mainly comfortable with familiar categories and objects. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: Aristotle 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
  8. 8. Failure 3: Inability to Model <ul><li>Don’t know how to model conceptually: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Causal chain. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Categorize according to list of types or kinds. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Pavlovian dogs when it comes to equations. </li></ul><ul><li>Need to understand problem qualitatively in words and diagrams prior to quantitative modeling undertaken. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: Hume 101 or Aristotle 102. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 David Hume (1711-1776)
  9. 9. Failure 4: Inability to Decompose <ul><li>Don’t know how to decompose big problem into little problems. </li></ul><ul><li>Look for magic bullets in equations of motion. </li></ul><ul><li>Most projects too hard: Companies don’t pay $8500 for plugging into Newton’s laws. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: Descartes 101? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 René Descartes (1596-1650)
  10. 10. Failure 5: Inability to Measure <ul><li>Don’t know how to measure stuff. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering taught as abstract math/science exercise. </li></ul><ul><li>Ignore benefit of direct measurement. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: Locke 101 or Bacon 101? </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 John Locke (1632-1704)
  11. 11. Failure 6: Inability to Draw/Visualize <ul><li>Don’t know how to draw sketches or diagrams when helpful. </li></ul><ul><li>Have difficulty with detailed drawings. </li></ul><ul><li>Graphics education greatly diminished. </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: da Vinci or Monge 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  12. 12. Failure 7: Inability to Communicate <ul><li>Finally finish the project. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t know how to present or write for business. </li></ul><ul><li>“What we have here is a failure to communicate.” </li></ul><ul><li>Historical terms: Newman 101. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Paul Newman (1925-2008)
  13. 13. Missing Basics a Quality Failure <ul><li>After 4 years they don’t know how to </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Question: Socrates 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Label: Aristotle 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Model conceptually: Hume 101 & Aristotle 102. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Decompose: Descartes 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Measure: Bacon-Locke 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Visualize/draw: da Vinci-Monge 101. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Communicate: Newman 101 </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Call these the missing basics (MBs) vs. “the basics” = math, sci, & eng sci. </li></ul><ul><li>Missing basics are in some sense more basic than “the basics.” </li></ul><ul><li>MBs as quality failure. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  14. 14. What Can They Do? <ul><li>Can plug & chug in Newton’s laws, Maxwell’s equations, and calculate big O & rigorous upper bound. </li></ul><ul><li>Can talk about limited categories of tech discussed in class. </li></ul><ul><li>Can’t think qualitatively or reflectively. </li></ul><ul><li>Heidegger’s beef: Science/tech as merely calculative. </li></ul><ul><li>Here, not calling for contemplation outside of discipline. </li></ul><ul><li>MBs not add ons. </li></ul><ul><li>Qualitative thinking skill as central to problem solving & creativity within discipline. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008 Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
  15. 15. Why Don’t They Learn MBs? <ul><li>Five reasons: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Got stuck in cold war paradigm (historical). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mistook math-science for engineering (philosophical). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ignored organizational barriers (organizational). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Believed isolated education scholarship & pedagogy results in effective reform (systemic). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ignored costs of reform proposals (economic). </li></ul></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  16. 16. Cold War Curriculum in Creative Era <ul><li>In final days of Vannevar Bush era. </li></ul><ul><li>Science: The Endless Frontier, set stage for NSF & research. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineers accepted notion (myth?) that “science won the war.” </li></ul><ul><li>1954 Grinter report spurred injection of math & science, reduction in design & practice. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  17. 17. Kuhn, Paradigms & Engin School <ul><li>“ Paradigm” traces to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962. </li></ul><ul><li>Argued that science proceeds in fits and starts, not gradually. </li></ul><ul><li>Old paradigms, ways of thinking about the world, are overturned by revolutions, not gradually. </li></ul>Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996)
  18. 18. Paradigm of Tech Academy <ul><li>Following assumptions sacrosanct: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Basic engineering science key to success. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Government funds superior to industry $$$. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Demonstrate mettle as individuals with peer-reviewed journal papers in specialty. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Question any  stare, derision & ridicule. </li></ul><ul><li>These beliefs are not scientific. </li></ul><ul><li>Paradigm of 50s-present. </li></ul><ul><li>Code words: “the basics,” “rigorous,” & “soft.” </li></ul><ul><li>Invoking code words not an argument. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Creative Era & Missed Revolutions <ul><li>The paradigm was OK for WW2 & Cold War. </li></ul><ul><li>Now a creative era, a flat world. </li></ul><ul><li>Missed revolutions since WW2: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Quality revolution. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Entrepreneurial revolution. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>IT revolution. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Teach the “revolutions,” but do not integrate lessons into academy or curriculum. </li></ul>
  20. 20. A Technoeconomic Framework <ul><li>Place revolutions in framework of underlying causes. </li></ul><ul><li>Missed revolutions enabled by technoeconomic effects: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Transport and communication improvements. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Network effects. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Transaction costs. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Puts past in perspective & project future trends . </li></ul>Karl Marx (1818-1883)
  21. 21. No Philosophy of Engineering <ul><li>Ontology, epistemology, and reasoning not taught, discussed. </li></ul><ul><li>Assumed to come from “the basics.” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Design” as abused term & mysterious process. </li></ul><ul><li>The 7 not usually articulated as fundamental to design. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  22. 22. What is Engineering? <ul><li>Engineering is the social practice of conceiving, designing, implementing, producing, & sustaining complex technological artifacts, processes, or systems. </li></ul><ul><li>Artifacts primary end. </li></ul><ul><li>Science & math are among tools used for artifact conception & support. </li></ul><ul><li>Social practice  Engineered by and for people. </li></ul><ul><li>Social side as important as the physics: Searle’s distinctions. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  23. 23. 3Space as Balanced Curriculum © David E. Goldberg 2008
  24. 24. ThingSpace as Example © David E. Goldberg 2008
  25. 25. Organizational Change Ignored <ul><li>Academic NIMBY problem. </li></ul><ul><li>NIMBY = Not in my backyard. </li></ul><ul><li>“ It is OK to change the curriculum…” </li></ul><ul><li>“… .as long as you leave my course alone.” </li></ul><ul><li>Politics of logrolling: You support my not changing. I support your not changing. </li></ul><ul><li>Even though agreement for change is widespread, specific changes are resisted. </li></ul>
  26. 26. : Org Innovation for Change <ul><li>Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Separate pilot unit/incubator. Permit change. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Collaboration. Large, key ugrad programs work together. Easier approval if shared. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Connections. Hook to depts, NAE, ABET (?), industry. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Volunteers. Enthusiasm for change among participants. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Existing authority. Use signatory authority for modification of curricula for immediate pilot. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Respect faculty governance. Get pilot permission from the dept. and go back to faculty for vote after pilot change </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assessment. Built-in assessment to overcome objections back home. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Scalability. Past attempts at change like Olin fail to scale at UIUC and other big schools. </li></ul></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>
  27. 27. Pedagogy & Ed Research Insufficient <ul><li>Pedagogical improvement & ed scholarship is fundamental response of reform movement. </li></ul><ul><li>Teaching/assessing wrong stuff well a poor solution. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Experiential & project-based learning is cure in many reform efforts. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>These effective because instructors coach really engineering knowledge & skill. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Teaching right stuff in balky organization doesn’t go far. </li></ul><ul><li>No magic bullet here. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  28. 28. Teach More Design & Projects <ul><li>Again, a pedagogical response to a systems problem. </li></ul><ul><li>This works well (and is terrific step) toward fixing problem. </li></ul><ul><li>But design is usually taught in studio setting or project course. </li></ul><ul><li>OK for 300, but what about 5700, and a continuing commitment to research? </li></ul><ul><li>Cannot assume heroics or fundamental cultural shift. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  29. 29. Economics of Reform Ignored <ul><li>Reform efforts ignore continuing costs of pilot efforts. </li></ul><ul><li>Utopian hopes that research faculty will return to their love of undergraduate classroom. </li></ul><ul><li>Lecture is much maligned. </li></ul><ul><li>Lectures are cheap. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Low preparation costs. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Lost coordination costs. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Not arguing for lectures alone. </li></ul><ul><li>Am recommending hard look at costs & scalability: 300 versus 5700. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  30. 30. Moving the Larger System <ul><li>Engineering education is a larger, complex system. </li></ul><ul><li>Organizational realignment needs political realignment as pressure sustaining change. </li></ul><ul><li>A grassroots approach: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Olin-Illinois Partnership (OIP). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Summit on the Engineer of the Future 2.0 (EotF2.0) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Alliance for Promoting Innovation in Engineering Education (APIE2). </li></ul></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  31. 31. Olin-Illinois Partnership <ul><li>Engineer of the Future Workshop , September 2007 (University of Illinois). </li></ul><ul><li>Sherra Kerns (Olin) one of two keynote speakers. </li></ul><ul><li>Continuing conversations & drafting of MOU for Olin-Illinois Partnership (OIP) in summer 2008. </li></ul><ul><li>MOU signing 12 Sept 08. </li></ul><ul><li>Planning for EotF2.0 began shortly thereafter. </li></ul>William Wulf (b. 1939)
  32. 32. EotF2.0 & APIE2 <ul><li>Summit on the Engineer of the Future 2.0. </li></ul><ul><li>31 Mar – 1 Apr 2009 (T evening – W). </li></ul><ul><li>Keynote: Karan Watson (TAMU) </li></ul><ul><li>Engineers of the future. </li></ul><ul><li>Breakout sessions. </li></ul><ul><li>Attendance limited. </li></ul><ul><li>Formation of Alliance for Promoting Innovation in Engineering Education. </li></ul><ul><li>Sign Transformation Proclamation at EotF2.0 event. </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  33. 33. Philosophy as Realignment Tool <ul><li>Talk has used philosophical modes of thought & argumentation. </li></ul><ul><li>Philosophy as </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tool for category error diagnosis & conceptual clarity. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Qualitative reasoning skill for educating engineers. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Alternative form of rigor to science & math. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Status enhancement device. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering: </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  34. 34. Bottom Line <ul><li>Summing up: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Senior design as way in. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>7 things engineers don’t learn. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Connections to intellectual history. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>5 reasons why engineers don’t learn these things now or why they are hard to reform. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Organizational, philosophy, and political modes of thought have roles to play in realignment. </li></ul><ul><li>Complex system can move with pressures in- and outside the academy. </li></ul><ul><li>Controversial: Make arguments, don’t merely invoke the “paradigm” & the “basics.” </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  35. 35. A Course to Consider <ul><li>Big fan of Teaching Company, . </li></ul><ul><li>Argumentation course a good, practical, introduction to theory and practice of argument. </li></ul><ul><li>David Zarefsky, Argumentation: The Study of Effective Reasoning, 2nd Edition </li></ul>© David E. Goldberg 2008
  36. 36. More Information <ul><li>iFoundry: </li></ul><ul><li>EotF2.0: </li></ul><ul><li>iFoundry YouTube: </li></ul><ul><li>iFoundry SlideShare: </li></ul><ul><li>TEE, the book. </li></ul><ul><li>TEE, the blog. </li></ul><ul><li>TEE, the course. </li></ul><ul><li>MTV, the course. </li></ul><ul><li>Engineering and Technology Studies at Illinois (ETSI) </li></ul><ul><li>2008 Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering (WPE) </li></ul>