Last week MIT published the report "The global state of the art in engineering education":
The report, authored by Ruth Graham, is a global review of cutting-edge practice in engineering education. It is informed by interviews with 178 thought leaders with knowledge of and experience with world-leading engineering programs, combined with case studies from four different universities. The report paints a rich picture of successful innovation in engineering education as well as some of its opportunities and challenges.
The study was structured in two phases. First phase provided a snapshot of the cutting edge of global engineering education and a horizon scan of how the state of the art is likely to develop in the future. Phase 2 involved case studies of four selected institutions identified during Phase 1 as being ‘emerging leaders’ in engineering education. TU Delft was selected as one of the four institutes, next to Singapore University of Technology and Design (Singapore), University College London (UK), and Charles Sturt University (Australia).
What is the future direction for the engineering education sector?
The author identified three trends:
- tilting of the global axis of engineering education leadership. Evidence from the study pointed to a shift in the center of gravity of the world’s leading engineering programs from north to south and from high-income countries to the emerging economic ‘powerhouses’ in Asia and South America.
- a move towards socially-relevant and outward-facing engineering curricula. Such curricula emphasize student choice, multidisciplinary learning and societal impact, coupled with a breadth of student experience outside the classroom, outside traditional engineering disciplines and across the world.
- the emergence of a new generation of leaders in engineering education that delivers integrated student-centered curricula at scale.
The four case studies differ quiet a lot and that makes it very interesting to read. The four features of the TU Delft education set it apart from national and global peers:
- deep disciplinary knowledge: all interviewees highlighted the technical rigor of the TU Delft education, with its students graduating with “a solid background in maths, mechanics and the engineering fundamentals”;
- design-centered learning: the design-centered curriculum established in a number of the university’s Faculties – including Industrial Design Engineering and Aerospace Engineering – was seen to provide opportunities for students to apply and contextualize their learning;
- an ambitious student culture of initiative and hands-on learning: the culture of TU Delft was seen to promote ambition and leadership among its student population, with significant opportunities to apply their knowledge to real engineering problems. Much of this activity is driven and supported by the student-led extra-curricular activities, which operate relatively independently of the university;
- a pioneering approach to blended and online learning: many interviewees noted the university’s growing strength in online learning and the positive impact this has had in recent years on student learning, both on- and off-campus.
According to the author there are three mechanisms for TU Delft’s educational successes:
- Strong, open and responsive leadership
- The use of online learning as a tool for on-campus educational change
- A culture that supports horizon-scanning and consensus-building
It is a honour that the joined effort of our online teachers and the Extension School team is recognised as one of the drivers of TU Delft's success.
What distinguish the top-rated programs?
in the study Ruth explored the features and experiences shared by the 'current leaders' and the 'emerging leaders' in engineering education. The current leaders share common features, such as an established international profile, educational excellence often confined to ‘pockets’, emphasis on external engagement and educational collaborations. More interesting is that they also share some distinct pedagogical features:
- pathways and linkages for students to engage with the university’s research activities, often building upon rigorous, applied teaching in the engineering fundamentals;
- a wide range of technology-based extra-curricular activities and experiences available to students, many of which are student-led;
- multiple opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning throughout the curriculum, often focusing on “problem identification as well as problem solution,” and typically supported by state of the art maker spaces and team working areas;
- the application of user-centered design throughout the curriculum, often linked to the development of students’ entrepreneurial capabilities and/or engaged with the social responsibility agenda;
- emerging capabilities in online learning and blended learning;
- longstanding partnerships with industry that inform the engineering curriculum as well as the engineering research agenda.
The emerging leaders share features that they start fresh (completely new school or a systematic reform), they are shaped by regional needs and constraints and their educational approach includes at least three of the following:
- non-conventional student entry requirements or selection processes;
- the increasing integration of work-based learning;
- the blending of off-campus online learning with on-campus intensive experiential learning;
- the establishment of student-led, extra-curricular activities in contexts and cultures that are not typically associated with non-curricular experiences;
- a dual emphasis on engineering design and student self-reflection.
There are four clear factors that facilitate best practices of engineering education:
- strength of academic leadership
- a collegial and exploratory educational culture
- student engagement in and understanding of new educational approaches
- in-house development of new tools and resources to support and advance the educational approach
Current leaders vs emerging leaders
The data collected in the first phase of the study gives a clear message:
As this data illustrates, institutions identified as the world’s ‘current leaders’ in engineering education are predominantly based in the US or Europe (representing 54% and 29% of the total recommendations made, respectively, and totaling 83% in all). In contrast, the ‘emerging leaders’ are much more likely to include Asian-based universities (increasing from 13% to 32% of the total selections made) and South American-based institutions (increasing from 3% to 11% of the total selections made). The geographical center of gravity of the world’s leading engineering programs may therefore be undergoing a fundamental shift, from north to south and from established high-income countries to the emerging economic ‘powerhouses’ in Asia and South America.
Educational focus of future leaders
Ruth identified five curricular themes likely to become increasingly prominent:
- student choice and flexibility
- multidisciplinary learning
- the role, responsibilities and ethics of engineers in society
- global outlook and experiences
- breadth of student experience
This report is a must-read for anyone involved in engineering education.
Ruth Graham (2018). The global state of the art in engineering education. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). ISBN 9780692089200
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