Michael Harris Kettering University, A model for Curricular Rrevision the Case of Engineering, Provost Michael Harris, Kettering University, Rroxanne Cullen
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A Model for Curricular Revision: The Case
Michael Harris & Roxanne Cullen
# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract The ability to teach one’s self is a critical skill for workers in the 21st century
because of the rapidity of change and innovation. To educate students to meet this
challenge, we need to re-envision curriculum with the goal of producing graduates who
have the ability to complete the transition from novice to expert after graduation and
continue to deepen their expertise throughout their careers. Using engineering education as
a model of current efforts in curricular revision, we present a method for curricular review
based on learning types in order to design an undergraduate experience that is
transformative and congruent with a learner-centered approach.
Key words learner-centered . curriculum . learning types . engineering education
Curriculum Reform: The Case of Engineering Education
The recently released report by the Millenium Project of the University of Michigan,
Engineering for a Changing World: A Roadmap to the Future of Engineering Practice,
Research, and Education by James J. Duderstadt (2007) offers a thought provoking and
comprehensive analysis of the perceived critical state of engineering education in the U.S. As
Michael Harris received his Ph.D. in Public Policy from Indiana University, his Master’s degree from
Tel-Aviv University, and his undergraduate degree in economics and business administration from Ben-llan
University. He is a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education Institute for Educational
Management (IEM) and Management Development Program (MDP). Dr. Harris serves as the Provost and
Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kettering University.
Roxanne Cullen holds a Ph.D. in English from Bowling Green State University with a specialization in
Composition Theory and Rhetoric. She is currently Professor of English at Ferris State University, where she
has also held various administrative posts.
M. Harris (*)
Kettering University, 1700 West University Ave., Flint, MI 48504, USA
Department of English, Ferris State University, Prakken 120, Big Rapids, MI 49307, USA
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the title suggests, the report offers a guide for engineering education, calling for a broadened
undergraduate experience and suggesting that the current undergraduate engineering
curriculum be replaced with a liberal arts undergraduate education followed by a practicebased graduate experience as is consistent with other professional degrees like medicine or law.
Ideally, the model of a broader, liberal arts undergraduate experience is workable; and
this proposal is founded on significant research and understanding of the multiple and
competing forces impacting education reform. However, the solution presupposes that the
current state of liberal arts education has progressed in a manner that engineering education
has not. There is ample evidence in the numerous and intense calls for institutional
accountability, or to use Duderstadt’s phrase “ a cacophony of reports and a chorus of
concerns” (p. 10), that the liberal arts curriculum is equally obsolete and that we need to reevaluate the epistemology and methodology of undergraduate education. Reforming the
undergraduate engineering curriculum with the current liberal arts curriculum would be
substituting one old model with another.
To meet the changing world of the 21st century, we need a new paradigm to underpin the
undergraduate experience as a whole, a paradigm centered on learning. Much progress has
already been made in shifting classroom practices to be consistent with this new paradigm.
The American Psychological Association’s fourteen principles pertaining to learners and
the learning process, which underpin much of learner-centered pedagogy, are now “widely
shared and implicitly recognized in many excellent programs found in today's schools”
(Learner-Centered Work Group of the American Psychological Association's Board of
Education Affairs 2007). However, pedagogy alone will not suffice in assuring a complete
institutional shift toward learner-centeredness. All processes within the institution need to
be examined and reconsidered under the lens of the new paradigm. (Harris and Cullen
2008a). Using engineering education as an example, in this article we offer a new approach
to curriculum revision that is consistent with the learner-centered paradigm.
Consensus on Outcomes
There is already general agreement on what skills and abilities 21st century graduates need,
regardless of discipline. The Board of Directors of The Association of American Colleges
and Universities (2004) identified five key educational outcomes which should serve as the
foundation of a quality education. Those outcomes are 1) strong analytical, communication,
quantitative and information skills; 2) deep understanding of and hands-on experience with
the inquiry practices of disciplines that explore the natural, social, and cultural realms; 3)
intercultural knowledge and collaborative problem-solving skills; 4) a proactive sense of
responsibility for individual, civic, and social choices; and 5) habits of mind that foster
integrative thinking and the ability to transfer skills and knowledge from one setting to
another. (pp. 5–6). Likewise, in writing for the National Leadership Council for Liberal
Education and America’s Promise, an initiative sponsored by the AAC&U, Crutcher et al.
(2007) identified analogous aims and outcomes for all students, regardless of discipline,
outcomes necessary for survival in a 21st century workforce.
Business and industry concur. Regarding engineering graduates specifically, Spinks et al.
(2006) called for graduates to have a sound knowledge of the engineering fundamentals
within their discipline and social and interpersonal skill sets including communication,
team-working, and business skills. (p.3). Vest (2007), President Emeritus of Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, called for engineering graduates to “write and communicate well,
think about ethics and social responsibility, conceive and operate systems of great
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complexity within a framework of sustainable development and be prepared to live and
work as global citizens.”(p.1).
Many of the outcomes identified both by educators and business and industry are skills
traditionally associated with the liberal arts curriculum. However, the report by the National
Leadership Council (Crutcher et al. 2007) emphasized that these aims and outcomes should
not reside solely within a general education curriculum; they must be embedded in all fields
of study whether the field is part of the traditional arts and sciences disciplines or not. In
regard to liberal arts education, the report states that, “ it is time to challenge the idea—
tacitly but solidly established in American education—that simply taking a prescribed
number of courses in liberal arts and science fields is sufficient“ (p.33). Flynn (2006) made
this point even more directly:
What we currently call the core curriculum (or distribution requirements) also needs
transformation. This prescribed set of required courses from an array of departments,
assembled in the hope that a well rounded general education will miraculously occur
from what is basically a cafeteria menu, is without design or merit. (p. 8)
This statement strikes at the heart of the change that must take place in the
undergraduate experience. Adding more courses, transferring more information, will not
transform students. In order to prepare graduates for the demands of the new workplace, we
cannot simply add requirements; instead we must carefully construct an undergraduate
experience that is transformative. Duderstadt and others have acknowledged the need to
reduce the size of the existing engineering curriculum in order to enhance skill development
in communication, teamwork, analytical capacity, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and
experiential learning. However, creating room for a menu of courses from liberal arts
disciplines will not assure the intended outcome. While we are closer to reaching consensus
on what the new graduate must know in order to succeed in the changing world and the
21st century workforce, we have yet to agree on how those outcomes are best achieved.
Our current model of undergraduate education is based on an epistemology,
methodology, and instructional paradigm focused on the transference of information and
assimilation of knowledge. As technology transformation has accelerated and problems
have become more complex, we have responded by adding courses that attempt to
accelerate information transfer. Covering more or different content is not the answer.
Bransford et al. (2000) noted that too often current curricula focus on memory rather than
learning, leaving students with ’limited opportunities to understand or make sense of
topics“ (p. 8). Tagg (2003) referred to this as educational atomism.
In the “educational atomism” of the Instruction Paradigm, the parts of the teaching and
learning process are seen as discrete entities. The parts exist prior to and independent
of any whole; the whole is no more than the sum of the parts, or even less. The college
interacts with students only in discrete, isolated environments, cut off from one
another because the parts—the classes—are prior to the whole. A “college education”
is the sum of the student's experience of a series of discrete, largely unrelated, threecredit classes. (p.110)
We must resist the temptation to believe that information in and of itself is valuable and
instead build a curriculum focused on the art and science of learning, on the transformation
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of students as learners as called for by Barr and Tagg (1995), who introduced the concept of
a learner-centered paradigm.
Accreditation and Curriculum Reform
The Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) has taken significant
steps in addressing this need for change by changing accreditation criteria so as to put
more focus on student learning outcomes. The new standards, known as EC2000, ask
programs to set clear educational objectives, to collaborate with industry, and to conduct
outcomes assessment and feed data from these assessments back into the program for
continuous improvement. The conceptual framework underpinning these requirements
posited that program change, including curriculum and instruction and instructional
methods, would impact student experiences in and out of the classroom. The new
criteria were piloted in 1996 and 1997, and new standards became mandatory in 2001
with major emphasis on Criterion 3 a–k. Criteria 3 a–k require students to demonstrate
An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics science, and engineering
An ability to design and conduct experiments as well as to analyze and interpret data
An ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs
An ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams
An ability to identify, formulate, and solve engineering problems
An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
An ability to communicate effectively
The broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a
global and societal context
i. A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in life-long learning
j. A knowledge of contemporary issues
k. An ability to use the techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for
engineering practice (Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology 2007, p. 18)
ABET anticipated that this shift in accreditation criteria would drive curricular reform,
and research has indicated that incremental change has indeed taken place. At the request of
ABET, The Center for the Study of Higher Education at Penn State undertook the task to
answer this question. Are engineers who graduated from programs since implementation of
the EC2000 standards better prepared for careers in engineering than their counterparts?
Lattua et al. (2006) reported on the three year evaluation in the report entitled Engineering
Change: A Study of the Impact of EC2000. The report provided promising data on the effect
accrediting criteria has had on curriculum change. Of particular interest was the fact that
faculty members have tried to embed some of the subject areas traditionally conceived of as
liberal arts territory; however, they did so with little or no reported decrease in other areas
So while faculty members and program chairpersons agreed that engineering program
curricula had changed considerably following implementation of the EC2000 criteria, the
curricula nonetheless remained entrenched in the traditional paradigm by focusing on
adding content rather than embedding skills and redesigning courses and programs. Few
programs witnessed any reduction in the traditional emphases, yet program chairpersons
and faculty members reported an increased emphasis on nearly all of the professional skills
and knowledge sets associated with EC2000 Criterion 3.a–k.
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Curriculum Reform in the Context of the New Paradigm
While incremental change has taken place as a result of the ABET efforts, more needs to be
done. Barr (1998) wrote, “Without a vision and design for the whole of the system,
incremental changes do not add up to anything significant” (p. 23). We must transform the
undergraduate curriculum to create an educational experience that focuses on the students’
purposeful attention to the process of learning, a curriculum that is intentional with the aim
of transforming students from novices toward expert status in a given field. It is through
this process that students will learn how they learn and acquire the self monitoring skills
that allow experts to teach themselves. We recognize, of course, that the undergraduate
curriculum cannot in 4 to 6 years develop graduates who have achieved expert status.
Research indicates a minimum of 10 years to achieve expert status in any discipline
(Feltovich et al. 2006).
The goal, rather, is to develop habits of mind and intentional learning strategies and
skills that will foster continued growth toward achieving expert status after graduation and
continued life-long learning. The ability to teach one’s self is critical in the 21st century
workforce because of the rapidity of change and innovation. Many fields now find that they
cannot accelerate the transfer of information to students fast enough to keep up with the rate
of change in the knowledge of the discipline. Gover and Huray (2007) estimated, for
example, that by the time engineering graduates walk across the stage with their diplomas,
nearly half of the knowledge of their discipline is obsolete. When the focus is on
knowledge rather than on learning, obsolescence is inevitable.
To create this transformative curriculum, reformers must examine the core of what is
needed within a discipline and eliminate some existing elements in order to focus more
directly and deeply on those transformative events that facilitate self-regulated learning
strategies exhibited by experts. The goal is to produce graduates who have the ability to
complete the transition from novice to expert after graduation and continue to deepen their
expertise throughout their careers. Graduates with these skills are more likely to be able to
keep pace with the rapidly changing work environment.
A considerable body of literature exists on expertise and how the transformation from
novice to expert is achieved. When we say an expert knows something “inside and out”, it
is not necessarily just a figure of speech. Experts solve problems at a faster rate than
novices because they are able to rely on underlying concepts and to recognize patterns that
are not yet easily accessed by the novice (Bransford et al. 2000); and they understand
concepts in holistic ways, from various perspectives, or “inside and out.” Experts do not get
distracted by the details. Clark (2003) wrote that experts can execute skills with greater
ease, for tasks that have been repeated over and over become so automatic that they are
essentially hardwired and thus bypass the working memory. However, time and practice
alone, which can facilitate automacity of skill, is not enough to create expertise. Most
important, experts also have more accurate self monitoring skills or metacognitive
facility in terms of their ability to detect errors and the status of their own
comprehension. In other words, they recognize what they do not know. Bransford et
al. (2000) discussed this factor in relation to psychological research on metacognition.
Flavel (1979) defined metacognition as individuals’ knowledge of their own knowledge as
well as their abilities to predict their performances on tasks in order to monitor their
current levels of mastery and understanding. Experts know how to practice or test
themselves in order to continue learning. Metacognitive ability allows them to test their
understanding of partial solutions in order to prevent errors and other impediments toward
reaching a goal. (Feltovich et al. 2006).
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Psychological studies of expertise (DeGroot 1965, Duncker 1945, Glaser 1976, Meehl
1954, Newall and Simon 1972, Reitman 1965) have shown that experts certainly know
more than others and they know in a different way. Feltovich et al. (2006) noted that,
“expertise is appropriately viewed not as a simple matter of fact or skill acquisition but
rather as a complex construct of adaptations of mind and body which include substantial
self monitoring” (p.57), Further, the complex developmental process involving extensive
experience through which an individual becomes an expert cannot be easily replicated; or,
as Feltovich et al. (2006) pointed out, “expertise is a long-term developmental process,
resulting from rich instrumental experiences in the world and extensive practice. These
cannot simply be handed to someone” (p. 57).
However, research by Kruger and Dunning (1999) indicated that metacognitive
strategies are “explicitly learnable” (Feltovich et al. (2006) p. 57). Problem-based learning,
for example, is a direct outgrowth of early research in the differences between novices and
experts (Barrows et al. 1978, Barrows and Tamblyn 1980, Elstein et al. 1978) and has
become a standard practice in medical education as well as in other fields (Feltovich et al.
2006). Research on self-regulated learners (Graham and Harris 1989, Weinstein and Mayer
1986), those individuals who display intrinsic motivation to learn as well as exhibit the self
regulatory habits of experts, has indicated that these strategies can be fostered in those who
are not self-regulating learners. Zimmerman (1990) claimed that “our understanding of the
interdependence of these processes [metacognitive, motivational, behavioral] has now
reached a point where systematic efforts can be launched to teach self-regulation to students
who approach learning passively” (p. 14). A curriculum that facilitates the transformation
from novice toward expert is one that achieves a balance between assimilation of new
knowledge and practical application focused on deepening that knowledge through
metacognitive ability. Such a curriculum is one that is deep rather than broad, and it
should promote deep learning.
The concept of deep learning is derived from the work of Marton and Saljo (1976),
which called for learners to integrate new information into existing knowledge, leading
them to adopt new perspectives and understanding (Ramsden 2003, Tagg 2003). Deep
learning requires an investment on the part of the learner who employs a synthesis of
learning strategies including discussion with peers, reflective writing, practical application,
and reading in order to process fully the information and knowledge with the added benefit
of retaining and transferring information at higher rates (Biggs, 1987, 2003, Entwistle 1981,
Entwistle and Ramsden 1983, Prosser and Millar 1989, Ramsden 2003, Tagg 2003). Tagg
(2003) articulated this phenomenon as follows: “Deep learning is learning that takes root in
our apparatus of understanding, in the embedded meanings that define us and that we use to
define the world” (p. 70). Active learning strategies that require sense making, selfassessment, and reflection are key to fostering this ability (Bransford et al. (2000) p. 12).
Biggs (1987) and Ramsden (2003) noted that, while some learners may gravitate toward a
deep approach to learning, the conditions for learning established by the instructor can
affect the learner’s ability to adopt these strategies. Feltovich, Prietula, and Ericsson’s
research has led them to conclude that our current educational paradigm is insufficient.
It is not reasonable to teach students knowledge and rules about a domain and then
expect them to be able to convert this material into effective professional skills. . . .
Schools need to help students acquire the skills and mechanisms for basic mastery of
the domain and then allow them to gradually take over control of their professional
skills by designing deliberate practice and activities that produce continued
improvement. (p. 61)
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In other words, as educators, we can create conditions for learning that facilitate deep
learning, thus creating a transformative experience for students. These conditions include
the physical spaces for teaching as well as co-curricular activities, professional development
of faculty and staff, and a host of other factors which influence the learning environment as
a whole (Harris and Cullen 2008b). In this article, we focus exclusively on curriculum
revision recognizing that the effect of curriculum design must be conducted in concert with
the development of teaching strategies and learning opportunities within that curricular
Work in curriculum theory has provided a variety of perspectives on curriculum review.
The work of Eisner and Vallance (1974), Giroux et al. (1981), Miller (1983), Miller and
Seller (1990) offers a range of perspectives on curriculum. Of these, Miller and Seller
(1990) devised a scheme that integrated concepts of multiple types of learning and provides
the theoretical underpinning for the model of curriculum reform we present. If we are to
make a comprehensive shift toward learner-centeredness, then our focus on learners must
extend beyond classroom pedagogy. We must examine the framework of our curricula
under the lens of learner-centeredness, aligning our curriculum design with pedagogical
practices that respond to learners’ varying needs.
Different kinds of learning are necessary within any curriculum in order to accommodate
individual learners and achieve a multiplicity of desired learning outcomes. Miller and
Seller (1990) identified three types of learning according to the role of the learner. First is
transmissive learning which is also sometimes called assimilative. Transmissive learning
assumes knowledge is content, a commodity possessed by individuals, controlled by
educators, and transferrable to students through demonstration, telling, and modeling. Freire
(1971/2003) described this as a banking model of learning whereby teachers deposited
knowledge into students like depositing money into a bank account. Transmissive learning
is the most common mode of learning in the traditional paradigm, one in which students
receive information that they add to their existing knowledge. In this model the primary
relationship is instructor to student.
The second category of learning is transactional which assumes knowledge is
constructed by learners through the process of learning. Transactional learning is
characterized by experiential activities, student-to-student learning through collaborative
acts of discovery, active learning, and team-based projects. Knowledge is not owned by the
instructor. Rather the role of the educator is to facilitate learning and to create environments
which stimulate learners’ interests, recognizing that learning is social while at the same time
The third category is transformative whereby the learner must reassess new knowledge
in relation to existing knowledge and reflect upon the underlying assumptions and biases
that are the foundation of that existing knowledge. Mezirow (1990) characterized
transformative learning as learning through self-reflection, self-awareness, and selflearning. A course that fosters transformative learning employs specific strategies. The
first is what Mezirow referred to as an activating event which can involve either the
presentation of a disorienting dilemma or conflicting evidence for the student to resolve,
some exercise or problem which challenges the students’ habitual way of knowing or
understanding. This event is followed by the student critically examining the underlying
assumptions underpinning that habitual understanding. Critical discourse and reflection are
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part of this examination and are followed by an opportunity to explore or test out new
Curriculum examination as directed by ABET, for example, is typical of scientific
curricula rooted in the traditional instructional paradigm. The focus of such a review of
curriculum is on areas of content knowledge arranged sequentially. The ABET table for
examination of curriculum (Table I) illustrates this concept.
In this model, each course is identified according to the type of knowledge (basic math
and science, engineering, design, or general education) to be disseminated. It is also tied
closely to credit hours and sequencing of courses. While it is outcomes based, it assumes a
transmissive approach to curriculum with a focus on knowledge rather than on learning.
We propose a model of curriculum revision based on learning rather than on knowledge
with the goal of integrating the three types of learning opportunities. The three types
cannot, however, be fully integrated as they arise from opposing philosophies of learning;
but building a curriculum that progressively shifts from transmissive learning to transactive
and transformational learning is consistent with the shift that Knowles (1984) identified
between pedagogy and androgogy. Knowles defined pedagogy as the art and science of
teaching and andragogy as the art and science of helping others learn. The concept of
andragogy is based on the assumption that adults are self-directed learners and that their
experiences affect their learning both in terms of preconceptions and resources for future
learning. Furthermore, adults have a strong sense of immediacy and relevance regarding
learning which makes their motivation for learning more internal. Critical reflection is key,
therefore, to the transformative learning that develops autonomous thinking because critical
reflection requires adult learners to consider how knowledge fits into their preconceived
ideas, previous knowledge, and experience. Traditional-aged college students are in a
transitional phase between pedagogy and androgogy. While in many respects they can be
considered adult learners, there is also a considerable amount of knowledge that is new to
them and for which they do not have a substantial network of previous knowledge from
which to draw. In other words, there is still a need for some transmissive learning
Therefore, our proposed model attempts to accommodate the three learning types,
progressively reducing the opportunities for transmissive learning in favor of transactive
and transformational experiences. Both transactional and transformational perspectives are
constructivist in nature making them congruent with the learner-centered paradigm. These
Table I ABET Curriculum Review Table
Totals-abet Basic-Level Requirements
Percent of Total
Minimum Semester Credit
Satisfy One Set
Category (Credit Hours)
Math & Basic Engineering Topics
Check if Contains
Significant Design (✓)
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approaches view learners as individuals in control of their own learning and view learning
as a holistic process, promoting the social function of learning. In this more holistic
approach, curricula are organized according to broad concepts and types of learning
opportunities as opposed to a sequence of units of knowledge.
To illustrate we begin with a consideration of the ABET learning outcomes as they relate
to the three types of learning. We recognize, of course, that courses can be taught from a
variety of pedagogical standpoints and that, in the end, the type of learning that takes place
in the course has everything to do with the strategies employed by the teacher. However,
the individual outcomes do lend themselves to specific types of learning, though obviously
these types of learning are not exclusive to the outcomes or vice versa. (See Table II.) For
example, outcome b, “An ability to design and conduct experiments as well as to analyze
and interpret data naturally” lends itself to transactive learning since the outcome involves
experiential learning; and in most curricula conducting experiments is traditionally
laboratory based and collaborative. The same is true for outcome c, “An ability to design
a system, component or process to meet desired needs”. Outcome d, “An ability to function
on multi-disciplinary teams” is transactional by definition. On the other hand, outcome f,
“An understanding of professional and ethical responsibility” lends itself to transformative
learning. While a transmissive-based course on professional ethics is not unheard of, the
consideration of professional ethics lends itself to opportunities for reflection and
encourages learners to fit professional ethical concerns within their individual existing
framework or understanding of the profession and their own ethics. The same is true for the
consideration of global and societal contexts (outcome h), contemporary and ethical issues
(outcome j), all of which are tied to life-long learning (outcome i) and are logical issues to
use for the examination of one’s underlying assumptions.
The role of communication (outcome g) in self-reflection and critical discourse appears
obvious, but also demands emphasis. Much of the empirical research on learning that has
supported the constructivist philosophy has supported the role that language formation
Table II ABET Criteria and Learning Types
a- An ability to apply knowledge of mathematics science,
b- An ability to design and conduct experiments as well as to
analyze and interpret data
c- An ability to design a system, component or process to meet
d- An ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams
e- An ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering
f- And understanding of professional and ethical responsibility
g- An ability to communicate effectively
h- The broad education necessary to understand the impact of
engineering solutions in a global and societal context
i- A recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in
j- A knowledge of contemporary issues
k- An ability to use the techniques, skills and modern
engineering tools necessary for engineering practice
Transmissive /Transactional /
Transmissive /Transactional /
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plays in learning of all kinds. Of particular interest was a study (Howe et al. 1990) of the
effectiveness of group discussion on learning. The finding was that students improved their
individual understanding of concepts through discussion whether or not the transcripts of
the discussion showed that the group appeared to make any progress in solving the problem
being discussed. In other words, the act of using language, speaking or writing, increased
comprehension. This supports the write-to-learn philosophy, which is predicated upon the
belief that the act of language formation is key to learning and comprehension or, as
expressed in the often quoted statement attributed to E.M. Forster, “How do I know what I
think until I see what I say?”. A clear proof that comprehension has been achieved is when
the individual can articulate concepts in language, written or oral. Therefore, a curriculum
that emphasizes learning is both writing- and speaking-intensive.
Much of this reform is dependent upon emerging research by engineering educators who
have already made significant strides in recognizing the need to redesign curriculum rather
than simply add to the current model. In a special report, The Research Agenda for the New
Discipline of Engineering (National Engineering Education Research Colloquies 2006) the
steering committee made the following statement:
Will the U.S. have engineers prepared to collaborate and lead in a rapidly changing
world? The answer to that question, in part, relies on our ability to transform how we
educate our future engineers. Our premise is that we need fundamental knowledge of
how engineers learn to under-gird these transformational decisions. (p.257)
In this report a national research framework was presented, outlining five areas of needed
research to “ensure a coherent, rigorous and innovative foundation for systemic and sustained
transformation of our engineering education system” (p.257). The five areas are engineering
epistemologies, engineering learning mechanisms, engineering learning systems, engineering
diversity and inclusiveness, and engineering assessment. The goal is to encourage research
that will inform how content should be taught and how learning environments should be
designed. With this knowledge the fundamentals of engineering knowledge can be identified
in order to build a curriculum that facilitates the growth of students from novice to expert with
an emphasis on deep learning as opposed to added content.
Mapping a new curriculum in this model will involve the identification of broad
concepts and themes and the design of learning experiences to facilitate their acquisition.
As reformers chart out the typical student path through the curriculum, they will need to
include more transmissive experiences early in the curriculum as students build a
knowledge base. These transmissive learning opportunities should be accompanied by
transactional opportunities, thus allowing the learners to gain control over their learning.
Transformative experiences need to be carefully incorporated at critical junctions
throughout the curriculum. For example, if the program has a first-semester course that
functions as an introduction to the discipline, this course could be designed as a
transformative experience involving considerable self-analysis as well as diagnostic inquiry
regarding learners’ current knowledge, preconceptions, and expectations of the discipline.
The same would be true of any capstone or culminating experience. The more expert the
learners become as they progress through the curriculum, the more they advance
transformatively. The implication is that the more novice the learners, the more they will
benefit from influx of knowledge (transmissive) and transactional experiences. For that
reason the inclusion of experiential work in conjunction with transmissive learning is
recommended as in the cooperative learning model used in some engineering schools.
Cooperative learning opportunities provide students with experiences that increasingly
acclimate and socialize them to the corporate environment as they increase their
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knowledge-base and theoretical understanding of their discipline. As learners advance
toward expertise, gaining practice employing self-regulated learning and metacognitive
strategies, the more those transmissive and transactional experiences will become
transformative for them.
Engineering educators and researchers are heeding the call to reinvent engineering
education; and they are approaching the task with the rigor and creative design facility
that one would expect of professional engineers in part, no doubt, because of the growing
concern over the perceived gap between math, science, and engineering education in the
U.S and abroad. One of today’s significant challenges is the growing unease that the U.S. is
losing its competitiveness in science and engineering as articulated by the National
Academies’ (2005) report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. In this report, the National
Academies of Science spoke of the need to develop engineers and scientists who have the
capacity to work across boundaries, to function globally, and to be innovative. They called
not for more graduates but for better graduates in these disciplines. We believe that revising
current curricula with a focus on types of learning is one means of achieving this goal. As
we noted earlier, the ability to teach one’s self is critical in the 21st century workforce
because of the rapidity of change and innovation; and for that reason the educational
experience we design for tomorrow’s graduates needs to be one that fosters independent,
self-motivated, and self-regulated learning, a curriculum centered on the acquisition of
learning strategies as well as discipline content.
We have used engineering education as an example of the possibility for curriculum
reform in higher education, in part because engineering has already made significant strides
in addressing the issues at hand. Close attention to discipline, pedagogy, and research on
learning is needed in all disciplines in order for us to redesign curricula that are congruent
with the shift toward learner-centeredness as well as to produce graduates able to cope with
the changing nature of today’s workforce.
Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (2007). Criteria for accrediting programs. Retrieved
September 19, 2008 from http://www.ABET.org
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