Category: Engineering Education


Shannon teaching at HU Point

Flashback: Teaching architecture students about sun angles at Hampton University, circa 2007.

I keep shifting roles in higher education so I can learn new skills. I spent 15 years teaching in the USA (advancing my way up to Professor of Architecture in 2014) before coming to Ireland as an education researcher and now Lecturer.

Transitioning from teaching to researching was more difficult than I had anticipated, partly because the work is more sedentary, but mostly because I missed interacting with students every day. And while I do enjoy engineering, I also miss discussing architecture and urban design on a daily basis. Fortunately though, I also enjoy interviewing engineering students.

As part of my Marie Curie Individual Fellowship to Dublin Institute of Technology (2014-2016), I conducted 60-90 minute interviews with 47 women in Poland, Portugal, and Ireland. The interviews I conducted as a researcher allow me to connect with students in new ways.

 

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Flashback to Portugal, where my colleagues and I have interviewed 11 women studying engineering.

Since the end of that initial Marie Curie fellowship, I’ve continued this research project alongside new responsibilities. I’ve recently conducted follow-up interviews with 11 of the 47 women in my study, for instance.

After that Marie Curie fellowship ended, I also found work as a Lecturer on the teaching staff in DIT’s School of Multidisciplinary Technologies and found my way back into the classroom. Today, I get to work with wonderful teaching colleagues, and to teach undergraduate as well as Masters-level students. I’ve included a photo gallery at the end of this blog, showing a typical week of teaching.

So these days, I divide my time between teaching in-class 16 hours per week, learning new content for the classes I teach, advising thesis students, serving as a year tutor in our MSc program in BIM technologies, and doing research. (I’ve taken a break from grant-writing this semester and have enjoyed the respite.)

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Planning for future studies in London.

I enjoy exciting new adventures, though, and so I’m preparing to transition back into full-time research for a while, so I can develop new skills by working for two years at University College of London. UCL’s website provides more details  via a press release about the fellowship).

I’ll look for opportunities to teach informally while I’m at UCL, as well, and I’ll look forward to my return to DIT’s classroom in two year’s time to apply what I’ve learned through observation and research.

DIT has granted me a Career Break so that at the end of the fellowship I’ll be able to come back to my current lecturing post. I’m excited about this because I feel I’ve found my feet and my voice teaching here. Aongus (my partner) says it’s clear I selected the right profession since my passion for teaching and for students comes through in the stories I tell at the end of the day.

Now, in the month before I leave for London, I’m trying my best to track down the 10 students from my DIT cohort who I haven’t yet met for follow-up interviews and move to this research project ahead.

 

 

The best way to spend a rainy Saturday in November? Teaching kids about electronics!

On Saturday–as part of Ireland’s 2017 Science Week, our RoboSlam team delivered two workshops in Bunclody, county Wexford. Kids as young as seven participated, and each built a working video game developed by our team’s very own Frank Duignan.

Workshop 1 – For students with coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game, change elements of a game using coding (15 Students, 10.45a.m. – 1.00 p.m., 8 – 12 years)

Workshop 2 – For students with no coding experience.  Build the controller, play a game (15 Students, 2.15p.m. – 3.30p.m., for kids 7 – 10 years)

The kids were such fun, and all were completely engaged and excited to learn. Bunclody Library hosted the Workshops, Toaglas sponsored the event, and DIT retiree Charlie Prichard organized sponsorship. For more photos and info, visit our RoboSlam blog.

 

I’m currently analyzing interviews I conducted during 2015 and 2017 with women in our engineering program who came to us from the Middle East (Oman and Kuwait). I want to understand how their experiences differ from those described by Irish women and by women born in non-Muslim countries.

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Dr. Ted Burke advising one of this semester’s RoboSumo teams in our design project lab.

I’m doing this analysis to help myself and my colleagues do a better job communicating with students as they adapt to new academic, social, and cultural expectations. I’ve learned that women must learn a new language (English) and a whole new professional vocabulary (engineering), in addition to moving far from home and interacting with an extremely diverse group of students–who in our college are predominantly male.

I’m glad to say this particular aspect of my research is progressing, and I’ve been accepted to present “A Longitudinal Study of Middle Eastern Women’s Experiences Studying Engineering Abroad” at the American Society for Engineering Education annual conference June 24 – 27, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

My colleague Dr. Bill Williams has been supporting me in this study, and he will present preliminary findings at the 5th Annual Engineering Education Research Network to be held November 23-24 at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London. During this time, I’ll be attending Ireland’s cITa BIM gathering here in Dublin, which should be equally insightful.

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Dr. Bill Williams (center) chairing a panel discussion at an ASIBEI conference at the  Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal in Portugal last summer.

In a similar effort to enhance communication among students and teachers, I’m an Associate Editor for an upcoming special issue in the IEEE Transactions on Education journal. The focus of this edition will be “Increasing the Socio-Cultural Diversity of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Related Fields.” Our editorial team is currently reviewing the full papers, and will return them to the authors in early December for them to make final revisions. I brought Bill Williams in as an Associate Editor on this project as well as the one mentioned above, and together Bill and I have helped include as peer reviewers, more diverse scholars and scholars from Europe and other parts of the world, to complement the peer review process for this IEEE publication.

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Wednesday’s RoboSumo class was going a-ok!

I’m gearing up for the new research fellowship by collecting data here in Ireland–data that I can analyze once I’m situated in London.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing women who are studying engineering in Dublin. Most of the women I’ve interviewed in this country have completed the design projects that you’ve seen in my prior blogs (RoboSumo, bridge design, and Energy Cube). Although I can’t show you the actual participants in my study for reasons of confidentiality, I’ve included a photo from this past Wednesday’s RoboSumo lab. Our big tournament is in two weeks, and excitement is mounting.  I’m asking students who took these courses three years ago about their experiences with engineering and with working in teams.

I truly believe that interviewing women from DIT over a period of years has helped me become a better teacher, particularly since I started teaching on these projects last autumn. In prior years, I was lending a hand occasionally in Energy Cube, RoboSumo, and bridge design, but most of my time was spent observing classroom and team dynamics.

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Trinity College’s main courtyard in all its mid-day splendor.

Today, I got to sit down and talk with a lovely young woman who started in DIT’s program four years ago, and who transferred to Trinity’s engineering program half-way through. To do this, I hiked across town to Trinity’s campus and the two of us chatted for 80 minutes, over coffee at Trinity’s Science Gallery. I hope the audio recording is clear enough, as I normally work in a much more controlled environment. There were far more distractions today than usual, yet the content of the interview was fascinating.

I interviewed all these women in the past as well, when they were first year engineering students, and now I’m catching back up with them after they completed several years of study. This is what’s referred to as a “longitudinal” study, and I am looking at changes and development over time. I have three more interviews lined up for next week, and I can not wait to hear about these students’ adventures in education and engineering.

 

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Beautiful “ferry” trees at Avebury in the UK’s Wiltshire region.

Last week I crossed the threshold into a brave new world. I traveled over to the UK, my soon-to-be home, twice to learn more about the place.

First, to celebrate Ireland’s bank holiday weekend, my partner Aongus and I flew to Bath. We rented a car so we could visit Stonehenge, the flight of locks at Devizes (the Caen Hill flight of the Kennet and Avon canal), Avebury which is similar to Stonehenge but larger, and the picturesque village of Castle Combe. In the city of Bath, we toured the ruins of the old Roman baths, the bell tower of Bath Abbey, Royal Crescent and the townhouse museum at One Royal Crescent, and weir and the Putney Bridge, as well as getting Watsu treatments and a night time soak with spectacular views from the rooftop pool at the Thermal Spa.

Stonehenge was spectacular, but Avebury had an even more mystical feel. The majestic old fairy trees with their thick boughs and knotted roots make it feel as if you’re stepping foot into C.S. Lewis’ Narnia or the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created for Alice. (Both of these were English writers, who could well have stood beneath the same magical trees we found here.) Wikipedia provides a quick reference to the meaning of ferry trees: “Many types of trees found in the Celtic nations are considered to be sacred, whether as symbols, or due to medicinal properties, or because they are seen as the abode of particular nature spirits. Historically and in folklore, the respect given to trees varies in different parts of the Celtic world.”

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Meeting with UCL’s Professor Nick Tyler.

After flying home, I flew back to London on short notice for four meetings on Wednesday–because my new colleagues at University College London had time to meet me and it was “review week” at DIT.

These meetings were in preparation for the start of my new Marie Curie research fellowship in January. The EU is providing funding for me to work at UCL for two years, to further upgrade my skills in educational research. During my short visit, I met with my primary supervisor Professor Nick Tyler who has an amazing record of research in transportation engineering and educational innovation. I also met with my secondary supervisor, Professor John Mitchell, who directs UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE). I also got to meet with the newest member of CEE’s research team, Dr. Inês Direito, who I’ll get to collaborate with in projects. All this in addition to visiting UCL’s European Office and quick chats with two other colleagues, Emanuela Tilley and Dr. Arnie McKinley, both originally from my own side of the Atlantic.

Overall it was a very productive day, and I even got two grant proposals read in route.

Across the span of the week, I had great experiences at work and at play. I can’t wait to get back to London, Bath, and the Wiltshire region of England for more learning, and more novel adventures.

 

My Friday afternoons at Dublin Institute of Technology are filled with civil and structural engineering projects. Today, we performance-tested several types of bridges, all designed and built by first year students. Here’s my testing gear, provided by one of my lovely colleagues, Una Beagon:

I believe that hands-on design projects are chock-full of learning opportunities for students, and I’m thrilled to be part of delivering project modules at DIT.

It was the first time for me to personally conduct the testing of the full-size bridge, spanning six meters across the pond in the courtyard of our building. I’ve attached a video of the test of the full-sized bridges and another of testing the model bridges:

Europe’s research framework encourages researchers to move around. The principle  “Researchers in Motion” underlies most of research funded by the European Union through its individual fellowship and its international training networks. For instance, all Marie Curie fellows must move to a country where they have not been living (for at least 24 months of the 36 months proceeding their application date). The EU offers support to researchers in motion through EURAXESS. This includes a database of fellowship and job openings.

Although I am not currently funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) research fellowship, I am still benefiting from support received through my prior MSCA Individual Fellowship (2014-2016) and networks I first established as Fulbright Fellow (2012-2013). These professional relationships help me conduct research and share (or “disseminate”) my results and findings. For both of these fellowships, I moved from my home in the USA to Ireland to conduct research full-time.

My first trip to Portugal occurred during my Fulbright in 2013, when Bill Williams, a colleague I had met at a conference in Greece, helped me secure support from Portugal for Inter-Country Lecturing. Bill organized an itinerary for me where I visited five universities and delivered four lectures and workshops. During that trip, I fell in love with the country.

Now, whenever I have reason to visit Portugal, I find a way to tack on a weekend before or after my business meetings. I’ve also booked an upcoming summer holiday there. Please see my prior post about the research meetings and ASIBEI conference I attended in Portugal during my recent visit.

I research engineering and design education, and I now teach introductory engineering and architecture technology in Ireland. It’s important for me to keep current and build new knowledge related to engineering, architecture, art, and urban design — as well as educational theory and practice. Here are some images of relevant sites in and around Lisbon, taken during my recent trip to the Iberian peninsula:

The following photos were taken at the newly-opened MAAT (Museum of Arts, Architecture and Technology) in Lisbon:

Next to MAAT is the Tejo Power Station museum (a former thermoelectric power plant that once supplied power to Lisbon and its surrounding region):

The Calouste Gulbenkian Museum is another highlight of Lisbon:

 

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ASIBEI member countries.

Last week I plunged into the warm, sunny weather of Portugal. I’d been invited to present about interactions between higher education and the business sector, at an ASIBEI conference. The president’s office of Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal invited me and sponsored my attendance at the conference.

ASIBEI is the Ibero-American Association of Engineering Teaching Institutions. It involves the Portuguese and Spanish-speaking world. The organization’s “official languages ​​are Spanish and Portuguese, which can be used interchangeably” in all meetings. I was the linguistic outsider, requiring  my own translator. I was also the only person to present in English; I spoke slowly and the audience followed along enthusiastically.

With the support of my Head of School, I arrived a couple days early to meet with colleagues about research projects and grant proposals. On Monday before the conference, I met with lecturers and researchers from Instituto Superior Técnico, as picuted below:

 

Later that day, I met with Dr. Bill Williams. Bill has been working with me on gender in engineering research studies. He has published conference papers with me and has also been working with me as co-editors of a special focus IEEE issue. Here’s a photo of Bill during the ASIBEI conference, where he moderated a panel session:

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Dr. Bill Williams is seated in the middle, moderating a panel discussion at the ASIBEI conference.

On Tuesday morning, I traveled from Lisbon to Cascais to meet with the Chair of the Ireland Portugal Business Network, who provided a great deal of support for a grant proposal I submitted this past January. After meeting with him, I got to spend a couple hours on the beach in this resort town where he and his family live. They escaped the cold weather of Ireland for sunnier skies. I loved these sunny skies and I rented a lounge chair and umbrella for the afternoon on the small but beautiful “Queen’s Beach” of Cascais.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I joined the ASIBEI conference for work sessions, panel discussions, a visit to Setúbal’s city hall, and a tour of the Lauak factory that produces parts for Airbus, Honeywell, and many other well known companies. I was fascinated to learn about the production of the airplane parts, since my dad and I have done our fair share of airplane construction in the past.

I made a presentation on “The Business of Higher Ed: Research Skills for a Prosperous Future” that you can view on Prezi. Aiming to provide the audience with useful knowledge that would interest them and help them in the future, I discussed the intention of Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions. I described two different MSCA programs that support researchers and help equip them to work with and within industry.

I had to hurry back to Dublin immediately following my panel presentation, to participate in our School’s program review Friday. The discussions with our evaluation panel were valuable and interesting, making the mid-night trip back to Ireland worthwhile.

Here are photos of the panel sessions:

And photos of the reception at City Hall:

Photos from the factory tour:

While in portugal, I also had a chance to visit the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, the new MAAT (Museu de Arte, Arquitetura e Tecnologia), and the Tejo Power Station museum (a former thermoelectric power plant that once supplied power to Lisbon and its surrounding region). See my next post for more images of the beautiful sites in and around Lisbon.

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After the lecture at KTH, with two librarians and two architecture profs, including my former classmate from Virginia Tech, Eric Stenberg.

Professor Jonte Burnhard invited me to KTH in Stockholm to deliver a guest lecture on what we–as education specialists, architecture educators, and researchers of engineering education–can learn from each other and from the pedagogical models used to teach architecture. Jonte had read a recent article, “Using Architecture Design Studio Pedagogies to Enhance Engineering Education,” that I’d published along with John Marshall and Gavin Duffy in IJEE. You can access the article at: http://arrow.dit.ie/engscheleart2/102)

The learning and teaching center at KTH hosts this type of lecture/workshop every couple weeks, to get the institution’s staff thinking about and discussing good ways to teach. In addition to classroom educators, quite a few of KTH’s librarians also attended the event, as well.

While at KTH, I enjoyed a dozen small-group discussions on pedagogical topics, toured the brand new architecture building, and caught up with a former classmate, Eric Stenberg,  from Virginia Tech’s architecture program. I’m hoping to visit KTH again soon, since we have so many overlapping interests.

I stayed though the weekend, before heading to Brussels on Sunday evening, and I’ve attached photos of the Christmas sights.

 Catherine Simpson is here at DIT tonight describing the research she does as a Forensic Engineer. You can also call her an expert in thermal modeling and a Building Services Engineer.

She can make digital models of buildings and predict their future energy performance. She can also go into a functioning building to identify, analyze, and rectify errors in thermal performance. She says that very often, buildings do not end up performing the way experts predicted. These are skills she uses:

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Catherine says Forensic Engineers must avoid using clues as if they were actual evidence (of the problem and its causes). These are clues: complaints, anecdotes, consultant reports, BMS data, ad hoc solutions, staff theories, and staff observations. On the other hand, these are useful forms of evidence:

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Catherine models problems digitally and physically. She also develops theories that she can combine to test her theories:

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Catherine gave an example of a shopping mall that had a very windy atrium and a very steep heating bill. No one could identify the causes of these problems. But after six years experiencing these problems, the owners called her in.

With careful analysis of data she collected (using dozens of different routes, including studying air flow by blowing bubbles in crowded spaces where smoke tests couldn’t be used) she identified a number of problems. One was a poorly placed rotisserie oven that was triggering vents to open. Another problem was that the building controls “thought” the building’s vents were completely closed when many were only partially closed.

Catherine devised a £50k solution to closing the vents in winter that is saving the owner £60k every month, in heat alone. There were reduced wind drafts and reduced tenant complaints. She says it saved about £500k in capital and restored people’s confidence in the facility.

Here’s one tool she uses to measure air speed:

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She also uses thermal imaging to study air infiltration, like so:

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We use this kind of technology in our Energy Cube project. This is a picture from that class last week:


Catherine’s work involves fixing problems and also providing expert witness testimony. Forensic engineering seems fascinating! Catherine is a veritable Nancy Drew.

Forensic engineering, she says, is like a jigsaw. You’re given clues, you find evidence, simulation gives context, you test theories, and ultimately prove a solution. She obviously loves her job!

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