Tuesday, November 22, 2011

First Engineering Education Flash Week in Lisbon

“My name is Amin and I am from Quanser Consulting in Canada. Our company specializes in robotics, mechatronics and control systems for teaching and research. We have been committed to enhancing engineering education worldwide for 25 years now, with over 80 different products and hardware-based course materials in more than 3500 universities.”

This is how I introduced myself to over 100 students, professors  and engineering deans whom I met in Lisbon last month. I was attending the 1st World Engineering Education Flash Week in Portugal. The goal of this  gathering was to bring together some of the most important engineering education international events, including :
  • The IFEES Summit (International Federation of Engineering Education Societies)
  • The SEFI Annual Conference (European Society for Engineering Education)
  • The ASIBEI Conference (Associación Iberoamericana des Instituciones de Enseñanza de la Ingeniería)
  • The EED Council (European Engineering Deans Council)
Flash Week  enabled  students, engineers, and professors from various academic and industrial backgrounds to share their thoughts on emerging challenges and solutions for the future of engineering education.

What made the whole event more exciting was the presence of many engineering students from all over the world. Ultimately, improving their education is the main reason for these events. Two different generations - students and teachers - were both participating and sharing their experiences about engineering education. Two main student organizations constituted the major percentage of student attendees:
  • BEST Board of European Students of Technology
  • SPEED Student Platform for Engineering Education Development
Students delegates at Flash Week 2011
 To add even more sizzle to Flash Week, the delegates were given Samsung Galaxy tablets to record live videos of ongoing events, dialogues, and presentations from various points of view and through the lens of different cameras. Although some people found the concept too much of a change, this was a means of reminding everyone of how the new technologies are revolutionizing the methods of interaction and will ultimately influence the methods of teaching and learning. I called the idea” visual twitter”, which seemed quite out of the box and novel.

Messages from a Hybrid Delegate
I received my engineering degree just a few years ago and most of my friends are still university students. On the other hand, I have been collaborating with many university professors throughout my career in Quanser. As a result, I am a hybrid who had a lot in common with both generations of attendees and had a lot to discuss with both groups.

As a robotics R&D engineer at Quanser, a state-of-the-art educational systems center, I had many things to share with people that I met at Flash Week. For me, the most important were these:
  • The knowledge that is gained by hands-on experience is much easier to retain  and very efficient.
  • It is the convenience and capacities of user interfaces that rule in educational systems of the 21st century. Quanser is dedicated to providing the best educational platforms and interfaces for teaching and research.
  • New curriculums should be developed that will allow students to learn in one year what their teachers learned in two years. That is the only way to maintain a sustainable educational growth from one generation to the next.
Amin with Dr. Reddy and conference delegates from India.
My Conference Highlights
My favorite keynote talks were  by Dr. Lueny Morell from HP Labs and Jim Ryan from Mathworks at the SEFI closing ceremony. The IFEES DNA working sessions were some of the most efficient and productive groups, with  teachers and students collaborating on discussions about sustainability, mobility, and IFEES’ vision for future.

One of the most interesting sessions was about mathematics and engineering education. The  authors had used image processing applications to explore a different methodology to teach linear algebra to first year university students. They believe that the concept learned by the students must have a meaning so that they can assimilate it.

Dr. Nagchaudhuri from the University of Maryland used Quanser experiments such as the Coupled Tanks, SRV02 base unit and pendulum to teach real-time control as well as mechatronics and instrumentation, with special emphasis on continued learning consistent with the ABET outcome of life-long learning.

One of the impressive new curricula was an undergraduate two-course sequence developed in Michigan for students to gain hands-on experience in the design and fabrication of nanoscale MEMs and BioMEMs. To overcome the cost challenges, the authors placed equipment from multiple educational entities into a pool available to students from all participating organizations.

Dr. Saunders-Smiths at Delft University of Technology investigated a research-based course on a flight simulator for undergraduates. Their interesting observation was that rather than working on the theoretical parts, students prefer to get straight to work with the implementation and learn the theory in practice.

A hands-on, problem-based learning approach was taken in University of Sao Paulo to teach concepts of robotics to freshmen undergraduate students using LEGO kits.

At Lund University, a hands-on course was given to industry practitioners to refresh their knowledge of process control principles. According to the authors, the objective was to get the participants familiar with common lab equipment and dynamics rather than producing well tuned loops.

Lila, Library of Labs, is an interesting pilot project to provide online access to lab experiments worldwide. University of Stuttgart is the head of the Lila project and a founding member of an international group of universities that specify and implement such lab equipment.

A Worthwhile Week
There were many more exciting surveys and researches into engineering education that were presented during Flash Week. However, it is beyond the scope of this blog to talk about all of them. In the end,  I found Flash Week to be a very inspiring and exciting event for improving the future of engineering education.

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