Engineering Ed Stuck in the Past

Curriculum modifications and forum replacements must be made in the engineering and computer science education system if we want to equip future generations.

I was taught engineering in a very traditional method: a professor standing at the front of the classroom and students trying to make out scribbled hand writing and copying it down by way of pen and loose leaf. It wasn’t the most efficient process, but it was what we had to work with in the eighties.

When I first left school, I knew I wasn’t prepared for the real world. In fact, my education had just started. I would end up back in the classroom for many years after earning my BS in Electrical Engineering, my first degree, in 1989. I would then go on to attend four different engineering universities between 1995 and 2013 in different countries—the United Kingdom, Jordan and the United States.

At each school I attended, the classroom setup and process for the most part was the same as the eighties. It was like time travel; the professor addressed the student body down front, and, like clockwork, each student hastily jotted down notes. Of course, this time around they were typing on laptops and the blackboard was gone, replaced with a green or white one and an overhead projector. Otherwise, the similarities were uncanny and unfortunate.

Today, the engineering education is trapped in the past. It’s the reason so many companies have widely complained about the low levels of practical awareness and technical know-how among candidates to fill new, high-tech positions. The talent gap is larger than you think, and the deficit puts a chokehold on innovation.

Engineering students are faced with vastly different sociological and economic challenges from those born in the fifties, sixties, even eighties. In just the next 5-10 years, scientists and researchers say we’ll be looking at an entirely new world than the one we see and interact with today, in large part due to the rapid rate of technological innovation. To advance with it, substantial curriculum modifications and forum replacements must be made in the engineering and computer science education system if we want to equip future generations.

To meet the needs of future engineers and the engineering practice we need to consider following the path of other learned professions, such as those in medicine and law. Med students like engineers usually take four years for graduate education. But doctors cannot simply practice straight out of school. First, they must enter residency for an additional 2-3 years and then a fellowship, accompanying a string of post-graduate training and experiential practice.

Higher education opportunities should deliver a project-oriented curriculum to give students real-life experiences before entering the workforce. Thus, a balance or bridge will be created between traditional education and practical know-how. In addition, I encourage those of us who have our feet cemented in the workplace to attend seminars, join workshops, look for mentorship opportunities and read progressive journals on the state of industries such as machine learning and the Internet of Things.

For starters, check out IEEE’s “A Day in a Connected Life,” a 360-degree interactive Web site. It lets users interface with IoT devices at home, at work, at the gym and in the car. This and many others credible sources can inspire engineers to stay involved, stay curious and be a part of the conversation.

Technologies will continue to advance and automate and digitize every aspect of our lives. It is a matter of time before traditional engineering job descriptions become obsolete.

“Published originally by EE Times”

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