Reflecting professionally on my past four years, REEN is a definite bright spot.
I’m delighted with what we have accomplished since 2018 when I joined the Governing Body of the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN), and since I took on the role of Chair for 2020 and 2021. I got to put many of the theories to work that I learned in my PhD in Higher Education Administration (Policy, Planning and Leadership).
During my term as REEN Chair, my team and I have met our existing goals of organizing a bi-annual Symposium (REES, or Research in Engineering Education Symposium), publishing a special focus journal issue from each REES, and hosting an informational website. We seek to build momentum and capacity to generate new knowledge, publish quality research, and implement research-informed teaching approaches in regions all around the globe.
We aim to host REES in geographically diverse regions, and we see this Symposium as a way of introducing new areas and communities to EER. I helped recruit and select the hosts and locations for REES 2021 in Perth Australia, and REES 2023 in Hubli, India. REES has been/will be held in:
- 2007 – Honolulu, Hawaii, United States
- 2008 – Davos, Switzerland
- 2009 – Palm Cove, Queensland, Australia
- 2011 – Madrid, Spain
- 2013 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- 2015 – Dublin, Ireland
- 2017 – Bogotá, Colombia
- 2019 – Cape Town, South Africa
- 2021 – Perth, Australia
- 2023 – Hubli, India
I’m delighted to notice that REES has now been held on every (inhabited) continent!
We recognize that attending REES in person involves global travel and is thus prohibitively expensive for many — as well as taxing on the environment — and we seek to make it more accessible, inclusive, and environmentally sustainable. So, the organizing team has developed multiple avenues for online participation.
We started innovating this way at the outset of the pandemic, when we organized with UCL’s Centre for Engineering Education a full-day online Engineering Education Meet Up. We co-organized a second one on International Women’s Day 2020. People attended these online events from all over the globe and we facilitated all time zones in the first event.
We built on this success with virtual events in the design of the upcoming REES in Perth, which has a global “relay” type structure. Events will happen face-to-face in Perth but will include paper presentations in a hybrid format (with face to face + online participation). Each research paper will be discussed three times:
- first in the afternoon in Perth (hybrid)
- second online at a time comfortable for the Middle East westward across Europe and Africa and across the Americas, and
- third at a report back to the Perth group the next morning.
We have a host of facilitators enlisted to carry the dialogue across the time zones during REES 2021, to support continuity. We will use collaborative tools (e.g., Padlet, Miro, Jamboards, or similar) to record and add ideas at each stage of the global relay. I’ll be facilitating two of these relay sessions, scheduling and helping the facilitation leaders prepare, and moderating the online keynote sessions. Our keynote speakers have agreed to deliver their talks twice: once to people in time zones near Perth (hybrid format), and again to the other side of the world (online only).
REEN will provide awards for the REES Best Paper and best student paper (the Duncan Frazier Award), and a sub-committee of REEN Board members is now in the process of selecting winners for 2021.
During my term as Chair, the REEN Board has developed a practice of building capacity among board members and empowering each other so that there is continuity in transition and handover over responsibilities among Board members.
In the past two years, we have expanded our Board to provide a better representation of non-Anglo regions; the prior naming and allocation of representatives previously privileged the USA and Australia, but it now provides two representatives per continent with some sub-divisions specified to ensure geographical diversity (here’s an example call for applicants). We’ll modify further soon, to make the Middle East and Russia two separate regions.
We have innovated and grown. In the past two years, we have developed many new policies and procedures (such as for recruiting candidates and conducting elections) and programs (e.g., virtual Meet Ups, hybrid conference formats, capacity-building groups, and a capacity-building workshop series that we’ll soon pilot test).
We established a new transition period, to bring the incoming Chair on board 6-12 months prior to taking the full role of Chair, and the outgoing Chair to transition out gradually over 6-12 months to provide advice and support to the incoming Chair.
We also established a new rotation cycle for elections that helps stabilize membership so that we have a consistent level of turnover each year. Our new practices for recruiting and selecting Board members provide a common and transparent approach across regions that will help REEN fill its needs for diverse skills, interests, and expereince. We developed a more balanced approach that allows seasoned and emerging researchers alike a chance to serve.
As we are a larger group, we have not had trouble recruiting people to take on new roles or expand our repertoire of offerings. These were problems encountered in the past, when sitting Chairs couldn’t find replacements, for example. In the past three years, we have had extensive competition for the Board positions we have advertised, typically with 6-10 people running for each open position.
To help ensure engagement among Board members and address a few cases of under-performance, I implemented an annual benchmarking activity wherein Board members submit a written reflection at the start of each year, summarizing what they contributed the prior year, and setting forth goals and aspirations they have for the coming year. This approach has been successful in helping build a sense of ownership and accountability. It helps us identify and build momentum around shared goals. Thankfully, it also gave individuals who were not contributing very much a chance to see that for themselves and modify their behaviour by either stepping up their efforts, better stating what they intended to contribute so they could deliver, or stepping down to allow others a chance to serve and lead.
As REEN itself does not have a bank account, we have successfully controlled costs. We moved our website to a less expensive/nearly free provider, and we upgraded the content. During my time on REEN, we have added a page on EER journals, and our team continues to cultivate and refine this list, trying to provide trustworthy and consistent information to authors to aid their selection of publication venues and help them avoid predatory publishers. We still have the annual cost of the website domain, and I’ll try to find a sponsor for that as I don’t like that obligation passing from Chair to Chair as we’ve been doing.
Over the past 24 months, we produced a special focus journal issue on ethics in engineering, published in hard copy in May 2021 via the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education. I was the Editor, supported by the Editor-in-Chief Sally Male, and Associate Editors from REEN Teresa Hattigh, Andrea Mazzurco, and Valquíria Villas-Boas.
A full list of past REEN publications is available on our website and this list is being expanded this very week to include updated content and a new page of domain-specific journals as well.
REEN also conveys news and communicates happenings via a new blog feature on our website, with a new email subscription list, in addition to a new Twitter handle, @BoardREEN and the LinkedIn Discussion Board that we have operated for years. I’ve been a major player in posting to social media, and hope to soon recruit someone to help with the job. Perhpas when we bring new Board members in, early in 2022.
The special focus issue of the Australasian Journal of Engineering Education (that I mentioned above) adds to the global body of literature on engineering ethics education. The introduction by the guest editor Shannon Chance presents the nine manuscripts and explains ties across them. Overall, the set covers ethical decision-making models and pedagogical techniques, philosophical aspects of ethics in engineering practice and education, ethics in accreditation, and the role of extra-curricular activities and gaming platforms in students’ ethical development. The set has been released digitally and will soon be published in hard copy as well. Many of the articles are open access, and a link to each is provided below.
In the special issue, authors Gwynne-Evans, Junaid and Chetty argue for a repositioning of ethics at the heart of engineering graduate attributes. Martin, Conlon and Bowe examine how “cases” (or detailed examples) are used in the teaching of engineering ethics; these authors argue for the development of immersive scenarios and active stakeholder engagement, as well for the development of local repositories and metrics of effectiveness. Stransky, Bodnar, Anastasio and Burkey explore the power of immersive environments that encourage authentic, high-level engagement by students. Sivaraman proposes a 4-tier rubric for evaluating engineering students’ ethical decision-making skills in the context of hypothetical scenarios. Lawlor offers a dissenting perspective to the teaching of engineering ethics through case studies and he recommends mirroring practices used in the education of philosophers—reading, lectures, discussion, and assessment—so that students are equipped to think critically about the profession. Hess, Miller, Higbee, Fore and Wallace explore empathy and ethical becoming, with the aim of helping Biomedical students recognize issues in practice environments. Frigo, Marthaler, Albers, Ott and Hillerbrand bring to the forefront the role of phronesis and virtues in engineering education. Advocating an authentic approach to teaching ethics, Polmear, Chau and Simmons highlight the role that informal, out-of-class, or extra-curricular activities play in the students’ ethical development. Finally, Chance, Lawlor, Direito and Mitchell assess the ramifications of traditional approaches to teaching ethics by asking civil engineers how they had learned about ethics and find that lessons of codes and professional practice were likely present in their engineering courses but completely unmemorable.
Frankly, I’m over the moon that this last article, “Above and beyond: ethics and responsibility in civil engineering“, by my own team, has already been downloaded from the publisher’s website 1371 times. It’s free to download, so please click this link to download the paper and learn what we discovered.
As REEN wants to help more regions build skills in EER and a sense of community working together, our Board members launched, in late 2019, a group we are now calling the “Engineering Education Research Network – Africa”. This group shares resources and ideas via WhatsApp and meet online to share similarly. Our Board has been working diligently to develop a series of workshops to introduce this community to EER and examples of how to do EER. We will run this workshop series in January-February 2022. I’ll meet with the group (online) later in November to launch that workshop initiative and encourage people to sign up.
Board members are hoping to extend these support activities into additional regions, eventually providing video recordings translated into local languages to help people learn EER. Our long-range plan for these EERN communities includes Latin America, the Middle East, and China.
In the role of Chair, I also developed a new logo with input from all Board members:
Our little Board is small but mighty. My wholehearted thanks go to the current Board members who made possible all the accomplishments I outlined above:
2021 (serving until the end of 2021)
- Valquiria Villas-Boas (Central and South America)
- Brent Jesiek (North America)
- Shannon Chance (Europe)
- Teresa Hattingh (Africa)
- Mahyuddin Arsat (Southeast Asia)
- Sarah Dart (Australasia)
- Aida Guerra (Europe)
- Cindy Finelli (North America)
- Camilo Vieira (Central and South America)
- Jiabin (Emily) Zhu (China and Northeast Asia)
- Xiangyun Du (Middle East and Russia)
- Esther Matemba (Africa)
- Sally Male (REES 2021)
- Mike Klassen (ad hoc)
- John Mitchell (ad hoc)
- Sohum Sohoni (REES 2023, Indian sub-continent)