Soft Knowledge


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A discussion on non-technical "soft" knowledge in engineering curriculum, focus on depth in addition to breadth and the current state of engineering non-technical education.

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Soft Knowledge

  1. 1. ‘ Soft’ Knowledge Depth Enhancing engineering curricula with focused, relevant non-technical programs. EOTF 2.0 March 2009 Brian Schertz Thomas Frankie University of Illinois-UC
  2. 2. Current Educational Practice <ul><li>Contemporary engineering curricula focuses primarily on development of technical skills. </li></ul><ul><li>Non-technical skills are increasingly important to today’s engineering graduates. </li></ul><ul><li>Limited space exists within curriculum to increase requirements. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Maintaining 4-year program important. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Key challenge: Improving non-technical skills in students without compromising technical rigor of the program. </li></ul>
  3. 3. The Case for the Non-Technical: Breadth <ul><li>Interaction between disciplines characterizes the modern marketplace: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Finance, Law, Public Policy, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Economics, Psychology, Urban Planning, etc. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Must set aside idea that there are purely ‘Technical Questions’. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The outside social and economic environment influences engineering decisions and outcomes. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Universities must prepare students to be functional in this multi-disciplinary world. </li></ul><ul><li>Graduates need awareness of other fields to integrate engineering into the overall process. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Case for the Non-Technical: Depth <ul><li>Fitting into the multi-disciplinary world is essential. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Leadership within this framework is also critical. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Engineer’s technical problem-solving background: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Provides insight into societal problems. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Deeper understanding of related fields is important. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Allows translation of insight into meaningful progress at community, corporate, and governmental levels. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Focused programs help students begin to truly understand non-technical issues. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Professional nature of Engineering: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Requires a greater civic and community role. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Leadership at all levels requires more than communication of engineering solutions: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Synthesis of business, political, social, and engineering aspects. </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Contemporary Offerings (University of Illinois) <ul><li>Non-technical Opportunities: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Campus and college general education requirements </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Minors offered through other campus units </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Campus honors opportunities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Non-technical study abroad programs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Joint programs between engineering and other disciplines </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Key distinctions among these programs: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Breadth vs. Depth </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Universal vs. Limited Access </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Campus General Education Requirements <ul><li>The ‘universal’ non-technical program. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Often the only exposure to non-technical at the university level. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Front-loaded at beginning of curriculum. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Limited feedback into engineering thinking and practice. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Designed to foster breadth, not depth. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Provide only a brief overview of topics. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Do not facilitate detailed knowledge or understanding. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Generally not intellectually stimulating to engineering students. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Administered by various campus units with limited relationships to engineering. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Non-Technical Minors <ul><li>Focused secondary programs that allow depth outside of engineering. </li></ul><ul><li>Developed outside of the engineering program. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>May be limited by university specialization in engineering. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Cannot be tailored towards only engineering students. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Requires significant coursework beyond engineering requirements. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Is not a viable option to many students if the traditional four-year sequence is to be maintained. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Often competitive admission procedures. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Tight application windows and requirements. </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. Other Contemporary Programs <ul><li>Joint Programs: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Structured similarly to minors. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Allow depth, limited access, significant additional requirements. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Study Abroad: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Breadth and experience focused. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Significant time commitment. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Campus and College Honors: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Breadth focused. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Only an option for students entering university with high-performance records. </li></ul></ul>
  9. 9. The State of Engineering Non-Technical Education <ul><li>Current non-technical options are limited in availability to the average student. </li></ul><ul><li>Overall focus on breadth in non-technical programs. </li></ul><ul><li>Universal non-technical coursework confined to the beginning of academic program. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Results in limited feedback from engineering knowledge. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Programs emphasizing depth are essentially restricted to atypical students who: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>were previously high achievers (pre-college), </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>have stocks of credit earned before college, or </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>are in no hurry to finish undergrad in four years. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Technical degree requirements: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Are essential in producing competent engineers. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reduce opportunities in non-technical programs that encourage political, social, and economic involvement that are also critical in today’s world. </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. Points for Further Consideration: <ul><li>Is the four-year educational model adequate for engineering? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Note no other ‘professional’ field requires only a bachelor’s degree (Law, Medicine, Accounting, etc.). </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Should engineering programs do more to foster deeper non-technical programs within engineering curricula? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the effect of advanced credit on non-technical opportunity at the college level? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Should engineering schools look at ways to increase access for all students? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Overall: What is the ultimate goal of undergraduate engineering education? </li></ul>
  11. 11. Contact Information <ul><li>Brian Schertz </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Thomas Frankie </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul></ul>University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering