Tag Archive: engineering education


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:

The first year students have arrived at DIT and are getting orientation this week. Today, the whole group of incoming engineering students were at our Kevin Street campus to learn about electrical and electronics aspects of their first year curriculum. Dr. Ted Burke led the introduction.

I really enjoy the chance to teach in various programs and on multiple campuses of DIT. I’ve posted images from my morning walk from DIT Bolton Street to DIT Kevin Street.

Shannon Chance IJEEI’m celebrating the publication of a new journal article today, with the help of Sally O’Neill. She’s one of the librarians here at DIT, and she secured permission and posted the article on DIT’s website, making it free for you and anyone else to download.

The publishing process is glacially slow. I submitted the paper in March 2014, based on a conference paper delivered in 2013. And here I am, in February 2016, with the final publication finally in hand.

Many time, in research, it takes time to see the results of your work. Seeing this in print helps make all these days, sitting at a computer analyzing text, feel more worthwhile. Once I can see that people are downloading it, and once I start getting feedback and citations in other people’s research papers, I’ll celebrate some more.

I know what I’ve learned through this research is useful, because I get to apply it in the classroom and in the design studio. The rewards of printed research are more slow to crystallize but also extremely important, especially for people who want to gain credibility in research and build a career around research.

This new article, written with the help of John Marshall in Michigan and Gavin Duffy here in Dublin, is about Using Architecture Design Studio Pedagogies to Enhance Engineering Education. Simply put, we believe that design education and hands-on forms of learning can help improve the quality and experience of learning in engineering and other STEM disciplines. The results reported in this paper provide support for that claim.

To give you a feel for what I’m describing, this is how we learn in architecture:

Above are pictures from design studios in Lisbon at IST and one for a study abroad program  offered by Hampton University. Very, very hands-on!

These days I’m helping promote similar ways of teaching engineering, which looks similar in many respects:

These are photos from electrical and mechanical engineering projects I’ve helped conduct at Dublin Institute of Technology.

This brand new article is about a specific design studio, conducted at the University of Michigan, that blurred the boundaries distinguishing art and science. It involved students and teachers from architecture, materials science engineering, and art+design working together to design and build “SmartSurfaces.” The paper reports learning outcomes — things the students learned in the  class — as illustrated by the blogs they posted during the semester. Here’s a glimpse of what that experience was like for those students:

For this new paper, I created a matrix to describe design behaviors in relationship to epistemological development (which has to do with how we view knowledge). I compared what the students wrote in their blogs to the definitions in my chart. Doing this, I was able to identify development of design skills as a result of students working in groups, and I even pinpointed some instances of epistemological development. John and Gavin helped check the work so that it would be more credible and reliable. They offered perspectives of insiders in the studio (John) and outsiders interested in group-based learning, Problem Based Leaning (PBL), engineering education, and epistemological development (Gavin).

This article should be of interest to any teacher who wants to help students develop new design, design thinking, or epistemological skills. Please feel free to read it and email me any questions you have, at irelandbychance [at] gmail [dot] com.

Chance, S., Marshall, J. and Duffy, G. (2016) Using Architecture Design Studio Pedagogies to Enhance Engineering EducationInternational Journal of Engineering Education Vol. 32, No. 1(B), pp. 364–383, 2016.

I just made my annual appearance at the class on theories about college students’ development taught by Dr. Jim Barber. Last year I got to be there in person, but this year it was back to Skype.

Fortunately, the new version of Skype allows for screen sharing. It is always a bit disorienting for me to deliver guest lectures online, but I don’t think it was too painful for the audience tonight — on account of this new technology.

Presentation to W&M SoE

Today at DIT, my research project is fully underway, and every day I’m drawing from the theories I learned in this very informative class that I had the good fortune to take, way back in 2006, at The College of William and Mary.

Tonight, I discussed two research methods I’ve been using — the first using template analysis and the second using descriptive phenomenology. If you’d like to view the Prezi I presented, you can click here.

The best part of the evening was that the William and Mary grad students — 22 in all — had lots and lots of questions. I couldn’t gauge exactly how well I was connecting with the folks in the back row (who contributed lots of great questions) because the resolution was only so/so, but I have been loving that the fact that my Skype/Messenger/iMessage/MagicJack technology has been improving every day!

It’s five hours later in Dublin than back in Virginia, so the evening is quite well worn here. And since I’ve got a researcher “media training” workshop in the morning, I’d better hit the sack now…. Adieu, Adieu, To you and you and yo-u!

Prezi cover shot

Fergus Whelan commented that I need to think outside this box....  Thanks to Frank Daly for the fabulous photo.

Fergus Whelan commented on this image that I need to think outside this box!  Many thanks to Frank Daly for the fabulous photo. My students, having sent his look many times before, certainly empathize with you!

In all corners of the globe today, companies are clamoring for skilled engineers. They want a larger pool of applicants who are creative, flexible thinkers prepared to address complex, emerging questions riddled with interrelated unknowns. Like industry, the sectors of healthcare, education, and government also have great need for well-rounded thinkers with strong engineering acumen.

Simply put: the world needs more people who can think across systems and see how things relate at multiple scales. We need people who can identify problems and create new solutions from the ground up. People who aren’t so closely bound to existing systems, ideas, and protocols that they can’t construct entirely new schemes for thinking and behaving.

Today, governmental organizations (like Science Foundation Ireland and the National Science Foundation in the USA) are working hard to address the shortfall in the number of engineers by generously funding education of, as well as research by, engineers and scientists. They seek better ways to teach and think about engineering and science.

The blogs I will be posting in the near future have to do with:

  • the way we think about and conceptualize engineering
  • how I think this needs to change
  • how architects and education researchers can help

Please note: I’m going to be explaining things that I’m trying to work out in my head and do this as if I’m speaking to a friend or relative who knows little about research. That means I may not be “100% right” in every explanation. But as you’ll see, that is a risk that must be taken for the sake of building knowledge. (It’s all part of this new “paradigm” for working and thinking that engineering needs to implement more widely… more on that to come!)

I do hope you’ll follow along on this research adventure, where I’m working to bring qualitative, social science research and design thinking into more facets of engineering education.  Yes, these are gutsy claims I’m making — particularly since I’m new to research and new to engineering.  Let’s see if I can live up to such promises….

Dr. Sheryl Sorby‘s groundbreaking research on spatial visualization brought awareness of spatial reasoning to engineering education worldwide.  Sheryl’s work highlights the importance of educational research and illustrates how applied research can make a real difference in the way we learn and teach.

Sheryl is a pioneer in engineering education research — the area where I’m now working to establish myself.  She was doing this type of research long before Engineering Education Research (EER) was recognized as a distinct field of study.  As such, she helped pave the way for all of us who are working to understand how people learn engineering and design today.  Today, she’s actively leading research teams on this topic.

Last year, Sheryl served as Ireland’s Fulbright Scholar in Engineering Education (that’s the post I held the year before) and she made noteworthy contributions. Whereas I applied for the Fulbright position when I was a “baby doc” (straight out of grad school), Sheryl brought the wealth of experience of a professor emerita (which essentially means she retired with academic kudos).  Awards she has received include the 2011 Sharon Keillor Award for Women in Engineering Education bestowed by the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

Recently, Sheryl delivered a TED talk at the 2014 TEDxFulbrightDublin event organized by the Fulbright Commission in Ireland, an event pictured above.  The TEDx talk, “Recruiting Women for Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths,” is available on YouTube. YouTube also features her webinar presentation on “The Importance of Spatial Skills.”

Her TEDx talk describes ways spatial-thinking skills correspond to academic performance in engineering. Her research has identified gender-related discrepancies in spatial visualization skills and, as a result, she has developed and implemented programs to help alleviate students’ weaknesses in this area. Her work has made a clear and measurable difference!  (I hope someday, I can say the same of mine!)

Sheryl researches other engineering topics as well.  Michigan Tech’s website explains she “is known for preparing engineering students and middle school students to think like engineers. Her research interests include advanced composite materials for use in civil infrastructure and 3-D computer graphics for visualization of complex behaviors.”

The National Science Foundation has supported many of her projects, and she even worked (or, “did a rotation”) at the NSF headquarters, as Program Director in NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education.

I’m proud to walk in Sheryl’s footsteps, and thankful for the work she’s done!

 

…to a pleasantly large group of colleagues.

Presenting at the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy

Virginia Tech just hosted its sixth annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy (i.e., college teaching).  It was my second foray into this conference and it just keeps getting better and better.  The organizers manage to get sponsors to cover the entire cost, so there’s no registration fee.  That is truly amazing.

The conference gives me a chance to learn great new ideas (the sessions and keynote presentations were innovative and engaging), catch up with colleagues from around the country and world (with about 47 countries and as many states represented among attendees), visit my alma mater (I earned two architecture degrees from Virginia Tech), and even visit my family and childhood friends (Blacksburg is also my hometown).

I also took a quick jaunt over to Virginia Tech’s School of Engineering Education — one of two such schools in the entire world — to learn and to meet new colleagues.  Dr. Maura Borrego, whose research I’ve been citing in papers and grant proposals, provided a fabulous introduction to the program.  In addition, I got to meet several of her colleagues, including Dr. Marie Patretti who directs the undergraduate components of the engineering educate program, and Dr. Stephanie Adams who is Virginia Tech’s new Head of Engineering Education.  I even got to attend one of the Ph.D. classes in Engineering Education, taught by Dr. Vinod Lohani, and discuss assessment issues with the students.  They were discussing a paper that I’ve frequently cited as justification for continued research on outcomes of Problem-Based Learning.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the level of interest my colleagues had in the talk I delivered.  The audience was attentive and engaged and stayed after with lots of questions.  Thanks to the wonderful moderator who snapped great photos during the talk!

Prof. Kamel Hawwash

Prof. Kamel Hawwash

Last week I travelled over to the UK to visit professor Kamel Hawwash, the incoming president of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI).

Prof. Hawwash has done a great deal of  work in attracting and retaining diverse students in engineering, a topic known as “attractiveness” in the UK, and one in which I’m aiming to do more research.

Prof. Hawwash’s SEFI presidency will focus on two main topics:

1) employability and skills

2) attractiveness

We had much to discuss and we met for nearly two hours!  After our meeting, I had a chance to look around the University of Birmingham campus and then explore the city before flying back to Dublin via Ryanair.

Past projects made by students...

Projects that students made in past years at the engineering school in Agueda.

I misunderstood the credit allotment for projects at Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão de Águeda.  As it turns out, the project design courses carry credits in keeping with architecture design courses in the States.  Jose sent me this explanation:

Hi Shannon, 

Good to hear from you, and thanks for sharing your blogpost.
I am afraid, though, that you didn’t get the project dynamics right. Projects are awarded, on average, 6 ECTS, which is more than they get for each of the supporting courses (we call them that, too), which tend to have 3ECTS each. At the end of the semester, the groups of students have to write a report and there’s a public discussion of their work, before a panel that includes the project supervisor and, usually, an external member (from another HE institution or from industry). Students get individual grades for their project work. 
 
In fact, the number of credits associated with project work (exclusively, not including the supporting courses) in the program is roughly 30% of the total number of credits.
 
Cheers,
 
José

This is a picture of a flexible lab for learning engineering.  It is a space for group-driven problem-based learning, or a “PBL classroom.” A colleague of mine back in Virginia who is an expert in engineering education said she wasn’t familiar with this type of space, so I though I’d post it for others to see.

The flexible learnign lab in the DIT electrical engineering program.

The flexible learning lab in the DIT electrical engineering program.

It was designed to promote team learning and provide access to materials and tools for building engineering projects.  Above, Gavin’s Instrumentation class had just wrapped up for the morning.

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