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.

shannon cynthia heather

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.

Learning London: University College London

During a recent workshop for development of research skills, the facilitator warned that people from other universities might approach us to work as a collaborator simply because they want to associate with UCL and they might not have genuine interest in actually working with us as individuals.

Funny enough, I was too naïve to have joined UCL just for its reputation. I’m only now beginning to understand the prominence of this institution and understand its very long, egalitarian history. As noted on the university’s website, “UCL was founded in 1826 as a secular alternative to Oxford and Cambridge by prominent intellectuals such as James Mill and Henry Brougham. UCL was the first university to be established in London, and the first entirely secular university to admit students regardless of religion. It was also the first university to admit women on equal terms with men.”

UCL’s surrounding neighborhood, Bloomsbury, hasn’t been portrayed as a center of equality and social reform in the various books, webpages, and exhibits I’ve consulted, but I see roots here. Near UCL’s main/Bloomsbury campus you’ll find the Quaker Meeting House, a symbol of religious tolerance (it has a lovely restaurant underground that offers discounts to UCL staff, and it has a cafe at street level) . You’ll find that huguenots and other religious minorities arrived in this neighborhood as immigrants seeking freedom from oppression in their homelands. You’ll find a former residence of Charles Dickens, whose tales show a deep concern for improving the lives of the oppressed.

IMG_7554As for breaking my naïve on the reputation and standing of UCL: QS’s most recent “world university rankings” ranked this institution seventh… in the world! Up there with MIT, Oxford, Harvard, and Cambridge.

I’d applied to work here after meeting some folks from the  university’s Centre for Engineering Education (CEE) and traveling over from Dublin for the launch of the CEE. Back in the States, I had heard of the Bartlett, UCL’s world-famous school of architecture, but not of UCL itself.

I applied to work here because I wanted to learn from movers-and-shakers and highly-accomplished teacher/researchers like Nick Tyler, John Mitchell, and Emanuela Tilley.

As explained in a case study of Nick’s past work overhauling engineering education published by MIT, this institution encourages quick and decisive action. It behaves more like a business than a typical university, and implements changes swiftly. The results can be impressive, as demonstrated with the increase in grades and diversity of students at intake and at graduation among students in civil engineering at UCL following the implementation of major curricular changes. And, who wouldn’t want a chance to observe in action a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE), Nick’s current title? An article in The Sun describes the British ranking system.

Today, I am enjoying learning my way around UCL. The photos in today’s gallery were taken on and near campus, in my adventures seeking out workshop, library, and lunch locations.

 

 

Learning London: Science Museum

IMG_7290

The Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid and partners.

London’s Science Museum is so interesting that we went two days in a row. We hadn’t had our fill after just one visit, so we woke up Sunday morning and said “Let’s go back!” Incidentally, entry is by donation, so you can give what you like.

In the photo gallery below, you’ll see the Science Museum’s spacious entry hall and some images on the display about space exploration. You’ll see images from other parts of the museum that cover technological developments over time (related to transportation, homes, and appliances).

There’s special exhibit on Mathematics that includes visualization of air flow around a small aircraft (a display designed by the late/great architect Zaha Hadid) and there are displays about bridge and tower design.

I’ve included a few images from the special exhibition on technology in India–feeding my fascination with step wells. We also visited the exhibit on “Superbugs” to better understand the evolution of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

The Brains Building Technology: Meeting the Greats at Inspirefest 2015

Shannon Chance with the founders of STEMettes (Anne-Marie Imafidon, center) and Black Girls Code (Kimberly Bryant, right).

Shannon Chance with the founders of STEMettes (Anne-Marie Imafidon, center) and Black Girls Code (Kimberly Bryant, right).

Silicon Republic hosted the first ever Inspirefest last week in Dublin, celebrating women’s achievements in STEM. A world-class line up of speakers of all ages from across Europe and the Americas graced Dublin’s Bord Gais Theater stage for two information-packed days proving many inspirational and eye-opening discoveries for an architect and educational researcher like me. Many thanks to Ann O’Dea for creating Inspirefest for us to enjoy!

Kerry Howard described women codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

Kerry Howard described women codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

Offering lessons from history, Kerry Howard talked about women codebreakers at Bletchley Park, and in the evening we viewed the documentary “Code-Breakers” and had Q&A with its director.

Kathy Kleiman described the women “computers” who helped break the German codes in WWII and developed *the* first programmable computers.

Dr. Nina Ansary presented the new book, The Jewels of Allah: The Untold Story of Women in Iran.

Hamming it up on an evening tour of Merrion Square with Intel VP Margaret Burgdorff.

Hamming it up on an evening tour of Merrion Square with Intel VP Margaret Burgdorff.

Margaret Burgraff, a VP for Intel discussed leadership, Bethany Mayer (CEO of Ixia) gave pointers on navigating the “glass maze,” Shelly Porges talked about working with and for Hillary Clinton, and Carolan Lennon shared experience from her work as Managing Director of eircom Wholesale.

At this conference, 30% of the audience — and the speakers — were men. They included panelists like Prof. Brian MacCraith, the president of DCU of whom I’m a fan due to his knowledge about pedagogy.

The keynote by Steve Neff of Fidelity Investments pinpointed the ways diversity pays. His points were extended by panelists John Basile (Fidelity), Ryan Shanks (Accenture), Marie Moynihan (Dell’s Diversity Chief & VP of Talent), Prof Mark Ferguson (SFI), and Fionnuala Meehan (who leads a team of 450 at Google).

Lauren Boyle, EU's Digital Girl of the Year

Lauren Boyle, EU’s Digital Girl of the Year

Then some truly amazing young people joined the stage.

Ten-year old Lauren Boyle, EU’s Digital Girl of the Year, demonstrated her new website, Cool Kids Studio, for developing new life skills.

Emer Hickey and Ciara Judge, who founded Germinaid Innovations

Emer Hickey and Ciara Judge, who founded Germinaid Innovations

High school student Emer Hickey, along with her classmate Ciara Judge, recently launched Germinaid Innovations. This company provides “agricultural solutions for a brighter future.” Emer and Ciara developed technology that is drastically increasing crop yield using natural bacteria and won a global science competition.

They were on a panel with Anne-Marie Imafidon, founder of STEMettes, who is running a summer program for which I recently recruited participants. I’m thrilled that at least five girls who I connected to the program (from Ireland and Poland) have been accepted for the upcoming Outbox Incubator business development program in London. In all, 118 girls ages 11-22 will participate in this 5 week program.

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars

Can you believe that we heard about all this in just the first 5 hours of the conference?!

During a break I had the chance to meet Anne-Marie, Mary Carty (a major contributor to the Outbox Incubator), and Kimberly Bryant (the founder of the Oakland-based Black Girls Code).

Later in the conference we heard from Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the astrophysicist who discovered pulsars and Susan McKenna Lawlor (of Space Tech Ireland) who developed equipment that is collecting data on a comet that is hurling through space at this very moment. MC Leo Enright and panelists Dr. Lucy Rogers and Ariel Waldman (who once worked for NASA and later founded spacehack.org) rounded out the session on space exploration and science.

Highlights from the second day included:

Ireland’s Taoiseach (i.e., prime minister) Enda Kenny, who described Ireland’s position in the tech world.

Robin Hauser Reynolds who described the life of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer.

Dr. Sue Black who wrote the book Saving Bletchley Park, actually saved this historic campus, and founded TechMums.

Suraj Shah with Intel's

Suraj Shah with Intel’s “She Will Connect” project

Intel’s Suraj Shah who works in Africa on the “She Will Connect” project.

Louise Kenny founder of the Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research in Cork.

Panelists Mary Moloney head of Coderdojo, Sheree Atcheson founder of Women Who Code, and Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code, who all shared their passion for coding.

Prof Linda Doyle and panelists Kathryn Parkes (SWRVE), Dr Annie Doona (President of the art college IADT), Susan Schreibman (Irish Research Council) coined a new term that I’ve adopted to describe the union of Design and STEM. D-STEM! Ain’t it grand?!

We learned about objects and wearables that collect data to help planners, policy makers, and designers from Gaia Dempsey (CEO and co-founder of DAQRI), Philip Moynagh (VP of Intel’s Internet of Things group), Jessica McCarthy, and students Laura Browne, Alex Casey, and Oisin O Sullivan.

Brianna Wu (co-founder of Spacekat Games) discussed intense challenges (and opportunities) for women in the digital game industry.

Niamh Bushnell, Dublin Start-up Commissioner

Niamh Bushnell, Dublin Start-up Commissioner

We also heard from business founders Elena Rossini and Elian Carsenet (of GapGrader), Laetitia Grail (of MyBlee Math), Ciara Clancy (of Beats Medical), and Niamh Bushnell (who is now the Start-up Commissioner for Dublin).

Investors and venture capitalists provided advice: Sharon Vosmek (ASTIA), Adam Quinton (Lucas Point Ventures), Nnamdi Okike (645 Ventures), and Julie Sinnamon (Enterprise Ireland).

Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn, provided a riveting final keynote on Making Money while Doing Social Good. She also has a TED talk.

Inspirefest 2015 lived up to its promise. It sent us back into the world full of new ideas and networks and knowledge!

Sheryl Sorby Spotlights Spatial Skills

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!

 

New “RoboSlam for Facilitators” Workshop

Ted, Damon, and I have been gearing up for future RoboSlam workshops.   We have been looking for sponsors to help us continue and scale up our work.  For now, we’ll have to keep things fairly small and simple.  We’re not letting the lack of funds hold us back too much!  We’ve got to keep our momentum going!

During my Fulbright fellowship, I had several official projects. Along the way, I adopted a number of other projects–like RoboSlam–where I could learn and also contribute.

Ted and Damon are so talented and passionate about what they do that it’s impossible not to want to contribute to the success of their project.

While I was away studying in Rome, Ted and Damon hosted a workshop for people we hope will want to become facilitators of RoboSlam.  It’s part of our strategy for getting more people involved in the project.

MOOCs, TED, and Online Courses

I’ve been following the development of online education and MOOCs, in part because I hope someday soon there will be a way for me to earn a certificate or degree in structural engineering using an online format.  I’d love to learn from the very best professors in the field! The tools for assessment are developing beautifully.

Salman Khan’s TED talk, about the Khan Academy, blew my mind. What this man is achieving and offering to society is absolutely amazing.

I’ve been intrigued to learn, also by watching TED videos, about Corsera‘s new achievements. Five of Corsera’s programs were recently endorsed for meeting the standards of university coursework.

The image below illustrates what I’d already heard: college costs six times more than it did the day I started.  This spike began while I was in college, and I faced mid-year tuition hikes. How do students in the US manage to repay their loans?

TED’s website explains:

Daphne Koller is enticing top universities to put their most intriguing courses online for free — not just as a service, but as a way to research how people learn. With Coursera (cofounded by Andrew Ng), each keystroke, quiz, peer-to-peer discussion and self-graded assignment builds an unprecedented pool of data on how knowledge is processed.

I recently received a request via email to share some images with you — I’ve included a thumbnail below that you can click to view.

Hi Dr. Chance,

I wanted to reach out to connect with you about a graphic that I helped create which takes a closer look at MOOCs and their recent growth in the education space.

I came across this post on your site: shannonchance.net/2012/11/13/whats-a-mooc-and-can-it-save-humanity/ – and given that you might have an interest in the topic, I wanted to see if you’d be interested in taking a look and/or sharing the piece with your readers. If so, let me know and I’d love to pass it along!

Thanks,
Allison M.