Dear Colleague

Jay Forrester, inventor of Random Access Memory, is one of those pioneering engineers who, from an early age, liked to get his hands dirty and build things. In the thirties, when his parent's ranch had no electricity, he built a working, wind driven, 12 volt electrical generator out of old car parts. Jay recently pointed out "Students need to get into the real world and do things with their hands. Learn by doing... Many of today's students are out of touch with the real world"

The hands-on way is the only way to learn

Jay was shocked at the 'gobbledygook' answers he got when he asked a class at MIT how the simple feedback system that adjusts the level of water in a toilet tank works. He was surprised to find that none of the 30 students had ever looked inside a toilet tank (and a typical incorrect answer was: '..depends on the size of the water mains in the street' etc).

Oil and Gas Production Handbook at the end of this newsletter

To add to your collection this week - I have uncovered a great and very readable Oil and Gas Production Handbook (details at the end of this) giving an introduction to oil and gas production prepared by HÃ¥vard Devold (of ABB ATPA Oil and Gas).

You learn very little from listening to someone talking to you, believe me! Unless you build in a hands-on component, you are really wasting your time. Lectures must be one of the biggest cons since universities and colleges started. Lectures are definitely a key component of any college professor's repertoire but inevitably a wasted effort. Why do we still continue with them? Well; they are considerably easier for the lecturer (and cheaper for the institution) and less stressful as there are no surprises, but totally useless in terms of learning. I would dare anyone here to test their entire audience with a few penetrating questions after providing a 45 minute lecture, and see what the level of absorption is. A riveting, highly interactive session is imperative, otherwise you are bound to be disappointed with the learning that you hoped would have occurred.

Suggestions in future

1. Demand a hands-on experience as a key component of learning when attending a training course or a even a short lecture

2. Use hands-on practical sessions to get a point across when instructing or explaining some concept (and to test that your points are indeed transmitted across)

3. Supplement your presentations and lectures with other useful techniques such as getting your students to do short guest presentations of the topics or undertake simulations or at least be highly interactive (with your audience).

As an aside, Jay Forrester's current research (he is still working and teaching vigorously despite being in his nineties), is on systems and system dynamics, (the study which he founded) which uses computer simulation models to show why certain behaviours providing short term benefits often bring long term negative results (and we all know that this is precisely true of the recent economic problems).

Apropos my comment above on the uselessness of lectures, the great sage H.L. Mencken remarked (tongue in cheek, presumably): 'I never lecture, not because I am shy or a bad speaker, but simply because I detest the sort of people who go to lectures and don't want to meet them'.

Yours in engineering learning