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The Missing Basics: What Engineers Don't Learn and Why They Don't Learn It

The Missing Basics: What Engineers Don't Learn and Why They Don't Learn It



Talk given at National University of Singapore on engineering education and transformation on 28 June 2009.

Talk given at National University of Singapore on engineering education and transformation on 28 June 2009.



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  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
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  • Hi great presentation and a novel angle ~ I love it especially as I live just down the road from Descartes in Central France. Many thanks, Jim
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  • I'm of african heritage. Black born..
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  • Great presentation, great perspectives! I really loved how you managed to spell out discretely what we new generation engineers lack. Clarified was also your distinction between a Scientist and an Engineer - 'One who discovers what is already existent, is a Scientist and One who creates what is non-existent, is an Engineer'. I was deeply enlightened. Thank you for coming to NUS!
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    The Missing Basics: What Engineers Don't Learn and Why They Don't Learn It The Missing Basics: What Engineers Don't Learn and Why They Don't Learn It Presentation Transcript

    • The Missing Basics:What Engineers Don’t Learn & Why They Don’t Learn It
      David E. GoldbergIllinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering EducationUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUrbana, IL 61801 USAdeg@illinois.edu
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Engineering Reform is in the Air
      • Many calls for reform.
      • Many lists the same:
      • Need more “design.”
      • Need more “soft” people skills.
      • Need better “communications.”
      • Change has come slowly, if at all.
      • Steadfast defense of “the basics” against foreign invaders.
      • Reflect on missing elements & why they’re missing.
      • Especially important in a creative era.
      • A warning: No silver bullet for change.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Roadmap
      Reflections upon 19 years coaching industrial-sponsored senior design.
      7 things engineers don’t learn.
      5 reasons they don’t learn them: philosophical, historical, organizational, systemic & economic.
      Moving the larger system: Political realignment for organizational realignment.
      Philosophy as realignment aid.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • General Engineering & Sr Design
      General Engineering at UIUC established in 1921 following curriculum study.
      Grinter report of 1954 led to more math and engineering science at expense of design.
      UCLA conference 1962.
      Ford Foundation grant 1966.
      Money ran out 1971.
      Industrial funding supports thereafter.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      Jerry S. Dobrovolny
    • Ready, Set, Go
      These are seniors.
      Should be engineers on the threshold.
      Express preferences for projects.
      Get assigned to a project: 3-member teams & faculty advisor.
      Go on the plant trip.
      Query: What don’t they know how to do?
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Failure 1: Inability to Ask
      • Don’t know how to frame or ask good questions.
      • Difficulty probing the problem.
      • Trouble following what has been tried.
      • Problems finding out vendors and sources of information.
      • Historical terms: Socrates 101.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      Socrates (470-399 BCE)
    • Failure 2: Inability to Label
      • Don’t know names of common systems, assemblies, and components of technology.
      • Difficulty labeling new artifact concepts or models.
      • Linguistically naïve.
      • Mainly comfortable with familiar categories and objects.
      • Historical terms: Aristotle 101.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
    • Failure 3: Inability to Model
      • Don’t know how to model conceptually:
      • Causal chain.
      • Categorize according to list of types or kinds.
      • Pavlovian dogs when it comes to equations.
      • Need to understand problem qualitatively in words and diagrams prior to quantitative modeling undertaken.
      • Historical terms: Hume 101 or Aristotle 102.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      David Hume (1711-1776)
    • Failure 4: Inability to Decompose
      • Don’t know how to decompose big problem into little problems.
      • Look for magic bullets in equations of motion.
      • Most projects too hard: Companies don’t pay $8500 for plugging into Newton’s laws.
      • Historical terms: Descartes 101?
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      René Descartes (1596-1650)
    • Failure 5: Inability to Measure
      • Don’t know how to measure stuff.
      • Engineering taught as abstract math/science exercise.
      • Ignore benefit of direct measurement.
      • Historical terms: Locke 101 or Bacon 101?
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      John Locke (1632-1704)
    • Failure 6: Inability to Draw/Visualize
      Don’t know how to draw sketches or diagrams when helpful.
      Have difficulty with detailed drawings.
      Graphics education greatly diminished.
      Historical terms: da Vinci or Monge 101.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Failure 7: Inability to Communicate
      • Finally finish the project.
      • Don’t know how to present or write for business.
      • “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
      • Historical terms: Newman 101.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      Paul Newman (1925-2008)
    • Missing Basics a Quality Failure
      • After 4 years they don’t know how to
      • Question: Socrates 101.
      • Label: Aristotle 101.
      • Model conceptually: Hume 101 & Aristotle 102.
      • Decompose: Descartes 101.
      • Measure: Bacon-Locke 101.
      • Visualize/draw: da Vinci-Monge 101.
      • Communicate: Newman 101
      • Call these the missing basics (MBs) vs. “the basics” = math, sci, & eng sci.
      • Missing basics are in some sense more basic than “the basics.”
      • MBs as quality failure.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • What Can They Do?
      Can plug & chug in Newton’s laws, Maxwell’s equations, and calculate big O & rigorous upper bound.
      Can talk about limited categories of tech discussed in class.
      Can’t think qualitatively or reflectively.
      Heidegger’s beef: Science/tech as merely calculative.
      Here, not calling for contemplation outside of discipline.
      MBs not add ons.
      Qualitative thinking skill as central to engineering problem solving.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
      Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
    • Why Don’t They Learn MBs?
      Five reasons:
      Got stuck in cold war paradigm (historical).
      Mistook math-science for engineering (philosophical).
      Ignored organizational barriers (organizational).
      Believed isolated education scholarship & pedagogy results in effective reform (systemic).
      Ignored costs of reform proposals (economic).
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Cold War Curriculum in Creative Era
      In final days of Vannevar Bush era.
      Science: The Endless Frontier, set stage for NSF & research.
      Engineers accepted notion (myth?) that “science won the war.”
      1954 Grinter report spurred injection of math & science, reduction in design & practice.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Kuhn, Paradigms & Engin School
      “Paradigm” traces to The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962.
      Argued that science proceeds in fits and starts, not gradually.
      Old paradigms, ways of thinking about the world, are overturned by revolutions, not gradually.
      Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996)
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Paradigm of Tech Academy
      Following assumptions sacrosanct:
      Basic engineering science key to success.
      Government funds superior to industry $$$.
      Demonstrate mettle as individuals with peer-reviewed journal papers in specialty.
      Question any  stare, derision & ridicule.
      These beliefs are not scientific.
      Paradigm of 50s-present.
      Code words: “the basics,” “rigorous,” & “soft.”
      Invoking code words not an argument.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Creative Era & Missed Revolutions
      The paradigm was OK for WW2 & Cold War.
      Now a creative era, a flat world.
      Missed revolutions since WW2:
      Quality revolution.
      Entrepreneurial revolution.
      IT revolution.
      Teach the “revolutions,” but do not integrate lessons into academy or curriculum.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • A Technoeconomic Framework
      Place revolutions in framework of underlying causes.
      Missed revolutions enabled by technoeconomic effects:
      Transport and communication improvements.
      Network effects.
      Transaction costs.
      Puts past in perspective & project future trends.
      Karl Marx (1818-1883)
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • No Philosophy of Engineering
      Ontology, epistemology, and reasoning not taught, discussed.
      Assumed to come from “the basics.”
      “Design” as abused term & mysterious process.
      The 7 not usually articulated as fundamental to design.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • What is Engineering?
      Many definitions:
      Common view: Engineering is applied science.
      Von Karman: “A scientist discovers that which exists. An engineer creates that which never was.”
      Koen: Engineering is heuristics.
      Pitt: Technology is “humanity at work.”
      Mesthene: Technology is “the organization of knowledge for achievement of practical purpose.”
      Rogers: “Engineering refers to the practice of organizing the design and construction of any artifice which transforms the physical world around us to meet some recognized need.”
      Engineering is the social practice of conceiving, designing, implementing, producing, & sustaining complex artifacts, processes, or systems appropriate to some recognized need.
      Artifacts primary object.
      Science & math are among tools used for artifact conception & support.
      Social practice Engineered by and for people.
      Social side as important as the physics: Searle’s distinctions.
      Needs are exogenous to the definition.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • 3Space as Balanced Curriculum
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • ThingSpace as Example
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Organizational Change Ignored
      • Academic NIMBY problem.
      • NIMBY = Not in my backyard.
      • “It is OK to change the curriculum…”
      • “….as long as you leave my course alone.”
      • Politics of logrolling: You support my not changing. I support your not changing.
      • Even though agreement for change is widespread, specific changes are resisted.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • iFoundry: Org Innovation for Change
      Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education:
      Separate pilot unit/incubator. Permit change.
      Collaboration. Large, key ugrad programs work together. Easier approval if shared.
      Connections. Hook to depts, NAE, ABET (?), industry.
      Volunteers. Enthusiasm for change among participants.
      Existing authority. Use signatory authority for modification of curricula for immediate pilot.
      Respect faculty governance. Get pilot permission from the dept. and go back to faculty for vote after pilot change
      Assessment. Built-in assessment to overcome objections back home.
      Scalability. Past attempts at change like Olin fail to scale at UIUC and other big schools.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Pedagogy & Ed Research Insufficient
      • Pedagogical improvement & ed scholarship is fundamental response of reform movement.
      • Teaching/assessing wrong stuff well a poor solution.
      • Experiential & project-based learning is cure in many reform efforts.
      • These effective because instructors coach real engineering knowledge & skill: the MBs.
      • Teaching right stuff in balky organization doesn’t go far.
      • No magic bullet here.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Teach More Design & Projects
      Again, a pedagogical response to a systems problem.
      This works well (and is terrific step) toward fixing problem.
      But design is usually taught in studio setting or project course.
      OK for 300, but what about 5700, and a continuing commitment to research?
      Cannot assume heroics or fundamental cultural shift.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Economics of Reform Ignored
      • Reform efforts ignore continuing costs of pilot efforts.
      • Utopian hopes that research faculty will return to their love of undergraduate classroom.
      • Lecture is much maligned.
      • Lectures are cheap.
      • Low preparation costs.
      • Lost coordination costs.
      • Not arguing for lectures alone.
      • Am recommending hard look at costs & scalability: 300 versus 5700.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Moving the Larger System
      Engineering education is a larger, complex system.
      Organizational realignment needs political realignment as pressure sustaining change.
      A grassroots approach:
      Olin-Illinois Partnership (OIP).
      Summit on the Engineer of the Future 2.0 (EotF2.0)
      Alliance for Promoting Innovation in Engineering Education (APIE2).
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Olin-Illinois Partnership
      Engineer of the Future Workshop, September 2007 (University of Illinois).
      Sherra Kerns (Olin) one of two keynote speakers.
      Continuing conversations & drafting of MOU for Olin-Illinois Partnership (OIP) in summer 2008.
      MOU signing 12 Sept 08.
      Planning for EotF2.0 began shortly thereafter.
      William Wulf (b. 1939)
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • EotF2.0 & APIE2
      Summit on the Engineer of the Future 2.0.
      31 Mar – 1 Apr 2009 (T evening – W).
      Keynote: Karan Watson (TAMU)
      Engineers of the future.
      Breakout sessions.
      Attendance limited.
      Formation of Alliance for Promoting Innovation in Engineering Education.
      Sign Transformation Proclamation at EotF2.0 event.
      Follow on student-oriented event.
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Philosophy as Realignment Tool
      • Talk has used philosophical modes of thought & argumentation.
      • Philosophy as
      • Tool for category error diagnosis & conceptual clarity.
      • Qualitative reasoning skill for educating engineers.
      • Alternative form of rigor to science & math.
      • Status enhancement device.
      • Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering:http://www-illigal.ge.uiuc.edu/wpe
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • Bottom Line
      Summing up:
      Senior design as way in.
      7 things engineers don’t learn.
      Connections to intellectual history.
      5 reasons why engineers don’t learn these things now or why they are hard to reform.
      Organizational, philosophy, and political modes of thought have roles to play in realignment.
      Complex system can move with pressures in- and outside the academy.
      Controversial: Make arguments, don’t merely invoke the “paradigm” & the “basics.”
      © David E. Goldberg 2009
    • More Information
      iFoundry: http://ifoundry.illinois.edu
      EotF2.0: http://engineerofthefuture.olin.edu
      iFoundry YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/illinoisfoundry
      iFoundry SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/ifoundry
      TEE, the book. http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470007230.html
      TEE, the blog. www.entrepreneurialengineer.blogspot.com
      TEE, the course. http://online.engr.uiuc.edu/webcourses/ge498tee/index.html
      MTV, the course. http://online.engr.uiuc.edu/webcourses/ge498tv/index.html
      Engineering and Technology Studies at Illinois (ETSI) http://www-illigal.ge.uiuc.edu/ETSI
      2008 Workshop on Philosophy & Engineering (WPE)http://www-illigal.ge.uiuc.edu/wpe
      © David E. Goldberg 2009