Engineering Education in South Africa: Facilitating Teamwork and Celebrating Diversity

My sister and I just crossed paths, like (air)ships in the night, at Johannesburg’s O. M. Tambo airport. At precisely the time my University College London colleague, Dr. Folashade Akinmolayan, and I were taking off from Tambo yesterday, my sister, Heather Massie, was boarding a plane in New York City. Heather was en route to the same airport.

Although Heather and I didn’t physically meet at Tambo airport, we were together in spirit–united by common causes and with more than just our flight itineraries overlapping. Finding ourselves in southern Africa at the same time would seem to be chance, but it also reflects who we are as people. It reflects values—of science, of learning, and of equality among people—that our parents instilled in us from our earliest days. Heather and I learned well from our mom (Cynthia Mara) and dad (Don Massie), and the values they gave us shape how we see the world, and how and where we work today.

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Shannon with Cynthia and Heather one Christmas after Mom’s trip to Japan.

Heather and I are both STEM (science, engineering, technology, and maths) educators, but of wildly different sorts. We both do outreach and community engagement activities with groups of diverse people and in under-served places. We both use “audience” participation to share our passions in STEM with others. We teach in spontaneous, improvisational, and highly interactive ways. We both see people as individuals and we bond quickly with others. We value our diverse friends, colleagues, and communities. We see diversity as an essential feature of creativity and we view it holistically—believing that identity is dynamic and ever-evolving and that people work everyday to develop their own identities with regard to gender, race, ethnicity and nationality, belief system, physical ability, sexual orientation and the intersection of all these and more.

As a result, Heather will be in Zimbabwe and South Africa for the next five weeks, performing her critically acclaimed one-woman play about Heady Lamar. Lamar was a Hollywood screen star, an impassioned inventor, and a self-educated engineer. She developed technology that makes all our wifi and bluetooth devices work!

Shade and Shannon workshop title slideSimilar to Heather, I was in Johannesburg this past week, facilitating a workshop for 26 engineering educators from all over South Africa.

Via this workshop, Dr. Folashade “Shade” Akinmolayan and I shared what we have learned and implemented in practice. We shared what we know from our research on group-based learning and from what we have lived, by assigning team projects to students at University College London (UK), Dublin Institute of Technology (Ireland), and Hampton University (USA).

img_0621Shade and I were invited to teach this Master class (one of eight multi-day seminars on teaching and learning coordinated by South African engineering educators) because we are both part of UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education. Shade is a chemical engineer with a doctorate in engineering and a focus on team-based learning. She coordinates group- and problem-based learning for the Chemical Engineering Department at UCL, though she will soon move to a new university where she will contribute to the development of an innovative new curriculum in chemical engineering–from the ground up. As for me, I’m an architecture professor from the USA who uses group-based approached to teach students in architecture, engineering, and education. I’ve taught workshops on such topics to other higher ed teachers at DIT, Hampton U, and William and Mary.

Shade intro slideShade and I found the 26 South African participants in our two-day workshop on facilitating teamwork in engineering education to be extremely energetic and engaged. They were passionate about teaching. They were enthusiastic about learning, sharing ideas, and creating new knowledge. We discussed ways to address the specific challenges they face and strategies to help support the range of diverse students in their classrooms. Drawing from experience teaching in many different places really helped.

All 26 participants were eager to discuss techniques, goals, and challenges surrounding their own efforts to facilitate learning in teams.

Shade and I made a pretty dynamic duo, if I do say so myself. We really worked well together and delivered a workshop of top quality. We will look for opportunities to offer this workshop again. Please let us know if you have ideas for future venues–for our team building workshop, or for Heather’s play.

Shannon intro slideAlthough Shade and I had literally just met—finding each other at the airport as we departed London for Johannesburg—we made great use of the day we had before the workshop to refine our plans, get to know each other, and learn to work together.

The workshop went off without a hitch, and the learning the 28 of us achieved was highly impressive. As Shade remarked, the event was a great confidence booster for us as workshop facilitators. It was, in my view, a confidence booster for all 28 of us (participants and facilitators) because we are all engineering educators trying to innovate our teaching practices so that students learn more and develop a wider range of skills crucial for engineers to have, and we all walked away with stronger and more robust strategies.

We received this very kind email at the conclusion of the workshop:

Dear Organisers,

Good day.

I wish to express my heart-felt gratitude to all the organisers and funding partners for the invitation and funding to participate in the Master Class programme of 24 – 25 April 2018.

It highlighted, in a detailed and understandable manner effective teamwork fundamentals, strategies and ethics.

The facilitators showed quality planning, timeliness and precision in delivery and coordination that motivated active participation: leading to a hugely successful programme.

While looking forward to participate in future programmes, kindly please accept my respect and regards.

Thank you.

With kind regards,

Williams Kehinde Kupolati

What a lovely message to receive!

This wasn’t the first trip to South Africa for Heather or me, although it was Shade’s first time going there (she’s a British citizen, born and raised in London).

ROTCH South Africa trip cover copy

I was in Jo’burg and Cape Town in 2004, when Professor Brad Grant and I brought a group of Hampton University students there to study urban design. Wee looked at how urban design has been used to enforce racial and ethnic segregation. We also studied how contemporary architects and designers are working to counteract the adverse effects of decades of segregation and strife. I produced a booklet about the HU trip to South Africa. I can’t get the blog platform to upload the document for you, but please just email me to get a PDF copy. My email address is: irelandbychance [at] gmail [dot] com.

Heather was in Zimbabwe and Cape Town last year, performing as Hedy Lamar and conducting play-writing workshops. That followed a visit she made with our dear family friend, the late African-American playwright Leslie Lee. Leslie’s memory lives on the in the work Heather does every day. Now, Heather is back in Zimbabwe and South Africa again, with an action-packed itinerary that will look something like this:

HEDY postcard image

For details and performance dates, see www.HeatherMassie.com/HEDY

Harare International Festival of the Arts – Harare, Zimbabwe – May 3, 4 & 6, 2018

Unizulu Science Centre, Science Festival – Durban, South Africa – May 9-12, 2018

Women in Tech – Cape Town, South Africa – tbd May (17, 21 or 22), 2018

Thope Foundation – Cape Town, Khayelitsha, South Africa – May 18 & 19, 2018

Makukhanye Art Room – Cape Town, Khayelitsha, South Africa – May 20, 2018

George Arts Theatre – George, South Africa – May 24-26, 2018

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre – Johannesburg, South Africa – May 28 – June 1, 2018

As of this past Wednesday, the only definite dates with set show times were the Harare ones, but she will probably be performing on all of the listed dates. Please check Heather’s website for specific show times.

Here’s a gallery of images from the workshop:

I hope to share images from our tour of Johannesburg in a future post.

Life as a Roving Academic

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.

 

 

Collecting Data

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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.

 

Ready to Jump off a Bridge?

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:

Using Architecture Design Studio Pedagogies to Enhance Engineering Education

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.

Vantage Points

What you see depends upon where and how you look....

What you see depends upon where and how you look….

In engineering, the teaching-from-the-podium-by-manual-and-textbook approach simply isn’t working.  It’s not attracting enough students to study engineering.  It’s not engaging and fascinating enough of them.  It’s not spurring their creative thinking skills in enough ways.

I’m clearly not the only one who has noticed this.  The National Science Foundation and oodles of engineering scholars agree.  And now that the engineering profession — as a group of individuals bound by common knowledge, education, and language — has come to acknowledge these shortcomings, it is time to address the problems head-on.

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

Not liking to be trapped inside the box….

Making such a change is difficult.  It’s messy and complex.  It requires thinking outside the vocabulary and methods that created the profession in the first place. In line with the old cliché: engineering has to starting thinking outside its own box.  Most people today agree: We need engineers to see and think in new ways.  And indeed, many teachers are:

  • working to prompt the needed type of thinking in engineering
  • testing new teaching methods
  • working to evaluate results

I am one of them.

I have two sets of skills that I am hoping can help in positive ways.  First, I’m an architect and seasoned educator.  Second, I’m an education researcher.  From this vantage point, I see that engineering (programs and pedagogies) can benefit from what architecture programs do.

The architecture profession, for instance, has always used hands-on teaching.  Architecture schools are full of students and full of creative energy.  Architecture and engineering aren’t so different, yet our ideas about what they “are” differ, and the way they are taught differs as well

“Engineering,” I insist, can benefit from design thinking, from techniques used in design education, and from sharing ideas with architects as well.  Upcoming blogs will explain how.


Below is a little gallery of recent research activities, including a short promo video (shot with my iPad in a single take) for our RoboSlam exhibit this weekend’s Dublin Maker event.

Ecology Rocks! (Especially in a Flipped Classroom)

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their "Roman Travertine" tile sample.

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their “Roman Travertine” tile sample.

Today we discussed “natural factors” that affect architectural design, such as rock and soil composition. This tied directly to yesterday’s studio class on the HU Point. Today, I was using a technique known as the “flipped classroom” to teach Architectural Ecology. I learned about this technique during my Fulbright fellowship at DIT.

I had assigned my students to read a chapter before class. When they arrived, we started class with ten minutes of journaling.  I asked them to write about the aspect of the chapter they thought was most important to them regarding our site at the Hampton University Point, and to explain why.  I also asked them to identify a topic in the chapter that they didn’t fully understand and explain why/what they didn’t understand about it.

Journaling is my own way of assessing students’ level of understanding of the content.  After ten minutes, I collected journal papers then “flipped the classroom”.  Each student joined the other members of his/her learning group, discussed the issues of confusion they’d each identified, explained to each other what they understood (this is known as “peer teaching”), and researched information on line using their laptops and smart phones.

I circulated around the room, listening, observing,  pointing them in the right direction where necessary,  and making sure they were achieving accurate interpretations.

It became clear that soil and rock composition was the major topic of confusion, so I went ahead and distributed the rock samples I have on hand.  Each group got their own unique rock type to analyze, research, and introduce to the rest of the class. The students did a great job of staying on topic in their discussions, learning, and teaching leach other.

They made sense of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock. They began to understand issues of texture, particle size, expandability, drainage, and bearing capacity while they were talking among themselves with my guidance.

A member of each group presented findings to the class and we discussed overarching issues.

Then I projected the Prezi file on the screen, which I’d formatted using a table of contents so we could zoom directly into whichever specific issues were causing confusion. In this case, we needed to go over the soil classification pyramid a bit, but they had already developed pretty strong understanding through the group discussions and rock presentations.

Amazingly, everyone stayed engaged for 1.25 hours!

I didn’t have to nag students to pay attention.

By the end, they seemed to have very good understanding of all the content of the chapter.  I found I had ten minutes to spare at the end to bush on topics of my choice (ones I thought a student or two might still have misconceptions about).

I am loving this new, more interactive, way of teaching.

It’s called “flipping the classroom” because the content is delivered before class (in this case, through a reading), and class time is used to gauge accuracy and depth of understanding and to build upon that base.  It seems to be a much better us of time than presenting everything with equal emphasis, before assessing if the students already understand it!

Not everyone came into the class having read, unfortunately. This problem should correct itself in the future because each student gets a grade for each journal entry. They have to show basic understanding of the reading in order to earn points. They generally start seeing the importance of this after a day or two.