on August 9th, 2021

While it's easy to think the future of engineering education will be on how to build flying cars and today's curriculum will be obsolete, science-fiction has to wait.

The future of engineering education is likely attached to new skills development, including creative studies, incorporating mental health considerations and still using established academic resources to create well-rounded engineers.

Finding the balance between these aspects of professional engineering is what could drive education for years to come.

A better understanding of engineers’ mental health

As the focus of mental health for students and employees become more important, engineers are not exempt.

The 2018 study Characterizing Mental Health and Wellness in Students Across Engineering was one of the first major studies to specifically focus on the mental health challenges faced by engineering students.

When completing a course in engineering there is a high course load, and the result is that many students do start to experience deteriorating mental health.

During the time of the study, 38% of respondents from nine different engineering departments screened for high-risk serious mental illness which includes depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

The study found that depression and mood disorders were the most prevalent in undergraduate and Master’s degree students.

The study also showed that Computer Engineering students have the highest risk for mental illness.

However, the study has no results to show that the higher risk of mental illness for engineering students is caused by the programs themselves, and there are some data that show students attracted to the engineering field could be more prone to certain mental health impositions.

Mental health challenges are also not unique to only engineering students, and there are many resources available to help students manage their mental health, and the education sector is taking this role more seriously.

In the United Kingdom, the Universities Health Charter is gearing up to make mental health part of day-to-day student life in Britain.

The charter knows aims at improving student retention and satisfaction by addressing many of the mental health challenges faced by students, including engineering students. By allowing mental health to form part of education it could change the educational outcome for students and staff.
Ultimately the charter aims to address the shortfalls of mental well-being for students.

Project-based learning gives you broad scope to education

The opportunity to have learning that is project-based allows specific competencies according to a study by the Canadian Engineering Education Association.

The case study Students’ Perception of a Term Project with respect to technical concepts understanding, creative thinking and interest in programming in a large, flipped delivery introductory programming course found that knowledge improved when students were given contextual projects.

Project-based learning in engineering education has been proven to aid motivation, improve retention and aid skills development.

The study also found that technical understanding and creativity has a specific relationship, even though the development of creativity in engineering is still unclear.

Project-based education has however been proven to stimulate creativity and as a result, it drives technical understanding of subjects for students.

Project-based education is not new to engineering education, but its integration seems to have many beneficial effects that improve overall education because it develops skills beyond traditional academic outcomes.

Engineering is inherently creative

With project-based education shown to improve creativity, it is time to demystify the relationship between humanities and arts and engineering.

These two realms of academia are not oil and water, since engineering is emerging again as a highly creative field.

A new paper titled Deliberate Development of Creative Engineers looks at the relationship between engineering and creativity, and the results shouldn’t come as a surprise.
When engineers are taught creative thinking, they are better at their jobs.

In fact, the authors are bold enough to make a clarion call on educators to deliberately integrate creativity in their curriculum since creativity should be seen as an essential part of the field.

To accomplish this, it is suggested that there is a milieu change that rewards creativity and innovation from early in the education process.

Engineers are not only tasked to create systems, infrastructure and technology of the future – they also need to be able to utilize existing structures or improve maintenance of what has already been done by their predecessors in the field.

Professional societies like the American Society of Civil Engineers are making more calls to develop creativity and innovation in engineers by creating mandates. As more societies adopt these kinds of mandates there is hope that engineering students are able to see how they personally fit into the field.

According to Deliberate Development of Creative Engineers, American engineering students are prone to leave engineering during their first year of study to pursue other interests because of the lack of focus on creativity.

On the other side students that graduate sometimes has degradation of creative abilities. The paper states that it is becoming important to create opportunities for students to express themselves and to be able to demonstrate their skills outside of mere computation.

It is also important to show that there is a lot of room for creativity early in education before students want to change their study direction.

One of the biggest suggestions made by the authors is to explicitly address creativity from the start of a student’s academic career.

Competitions, challenges and opportunities for students to show their design skills are usually extracurricular or done outside of normal course work, including this will likely enhance engineering education.

Projects like building beach cleaning robots, or addressing energy shortfalls are sometimes creative outlets for students to marry their engineering knowledge with practical and creative solutions.

The same paper states that it is important for skills like creativity to be validated from the start, and not seen as mere interest.

Another article, The arts and engineering advocates that engineers receiving liberal education that is inclusive of arts and humanities gives them an added skill of being able to understand the needs of society better, and then respond to it from an engineering perspective.

Don't forget the past

New skills development has to keep up with the rapid changes but older textbooks still have value.
The Journal for Online Engineering Education believes that older books are untapped resources in newer engineering curricula. Most notably older books are more commonly available as a free resource, and as a result easier to include in a student’s digest.

In the United States, copyright laws protect books for only 95 years. After that, these books form part of the public domain.

When copyright expires valuable information becomes freely available, that otherwise would have been lost due to monetary restrictions many students face. It allows students to explore even more broadly the roots of their engineering interests without the stress of high cost.

One resource engineer have is the HathiTrust Digital Library. Here students have access to millions of digitized resources free of copyright.

A new research paper Engineering Education: Using Technical Attributes to Analyse the Employers' Expectation of Future Engineering Graduates in Malaysia estimates that 88.6% of engineers in all Malaysian industrial sectors require knowledge of engineering fundamentals.
There’s also some emphasis placed on engineers that have a firm grasp on social, cultural, global and of course environmental responsibilities that comes with the field.

New engineers also need to be able to think in terms of sustainable development and be willing to undertake lifelong learning.

What is clear is that engineering is becoming more humanistic by including mental health and creativity, as well as acknowledging that a solid foundation of engineering education from the past will be essential for engineers forging ahead.

References

Danowitz, A., & Beddoes, K. (2018, April), Characterizing Mental Health and Wellness in Students Across Engineering Disciplines Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia. https://peer.asee.org/29522

Student Minds, 2021. 32 Universities lead the way in demonstrating commitment to mental health in joining new University Mental Health Charter Programme. [online] Available at https://www. studentminds.org.uk/latestnews/32-universities-lead-the-way-in-demonstrating-commitment-to-mental-health-in-joining-new-mental-health-charter-programme. [Accessed 2 August]

Dornian, Katherine & Paul, Robyn & Afkhami Goli, Sepideh & Rontu, Ioana & Moshirpour, Mohammad. (2020). Students’ Perception of a Term Project with respect to technical concepts understanding, creative thinking and interest in programming in a large, flipped delivery introductory programming course. Proceedings of the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA). 10.24908/pceea.vi0.14181.

Bruhl, Jakob & Klosky, Led. (2020). Deliberate Development of Creative Engineers. 10.18260/1-2—34376

Shuster, M.D.. (2008). The arts and engineering [Focus on Education]. Control Systems, IEEE. 28. 96 - 98. 10.1109/MCS.2008.924881.

Musser, Linda. (2019). A Study of the Copyright Renewal Rate for Maps. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. 10.29173/istl49.

HathiTrust Digital Library. Copyright Review Program. [Online.] Available: https://www.hathitrust.org/copyright-review [Accessed 2 August].

Abdullah, Shahrum & Zaharim, Azami & HARRIS, S. & Omar, M.Z. & Basri, Hassan & Mohamed, Nik. (2021). Engineering Education: Using Technical Attributes to Analyse the Employers' Expectation of Future Engineering Graduates in Malaysia.

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