Thoughts on the Relevancy of Networked Learning in Engineering Education

Until last semester, when I took Preparing for Future Professoriate, I didn’t even know that blogging was a school thing. I asked around, and it came to my attention that the majority who did blog as part of coursework requirement were outside of engineering. The initial shock was tempered by the statistics, and it served as a beginning to my reflections on the engineering education experience.

Let me start by saying that I find blogging fun. That what I’m currently writing will be (please?) read by not just a person who assigns the grade but a collective audience that interacts. Words now have the potential for greater meaning and outreach, whereas they used to be archived and gathering digital dust after given another checkmark.

So why is blogging less prevalent in engineering education?

One reason could be that the curriculum is geared more towards problem-solving. Presently, it’s hard to imagine learning the mathematical and technical fundamentals other than through the more traditional methods (i.e. the chalk and blackboard lectures). There is also the issue of meeting ABET requirements, so that the engineering program maintains accreditation (see link below). Hence, the student contract, or the syllabus.

But there are engineering topics that cannot be taught in the traditional sense. One of my most memorable undergraduate experiences was a course about entrepreneurship in the energy sector. The class wasn’t so much a lecture as it was a discussion on why certain people, policies, technologies succeed or fail. I learned so much from my peers, who unfortunately probably didn’t learn as much from reticent me. As with all complex problems, the solution cannot be taught or given. But the problem can be discussed, and ideas can be bounced off one another, hopefully providing participants with broader perspectives that can lead to forward-moving decisions. It’s what happens in meeting rooms, conferences, political stages, where big issues are given voice. If discussions are integral to real life, why shouldn’t education reflect that?

I know a number of students who chose to go into engineering because it represented the path of least resistance – more numbers, fewer essays. Boy were they in for a surprise! Writing, and communication in general, occupy an enormous chunk of an engineer’s time. Practice makes better, and there’s no better motivator (in my opinion) than to practice writing for an actual audience. It could even be a more comfortable channel of communication for the less outspoken, such as myself. Again, it’s this element of relevancy to life that I think can enrich engineering education.