The Well Rounded Engineer

I will say having being through the collegiate meat grinder I was always a little upset that I had to pay all this extra money for classes I though weren’t important for my major (film video studies, world dance, English classes, etc.). I did not have an appreciation for these classes at the time. I think Dan Edelstein’s piece really sums up the difference between humanities and the “hard” sciences. Engineers are taught a baseline knowledge initially where there is typically one answer or a minimum answer at least, while the humanities use more original thinking and have a bunch of creative answers. The originality is what gets you a good grade as opposed to engineering, where deviating from the norm is shunned. I think even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time taking humanities courses engaged the other side of my brain and made me a better critical thinker. Young engineers I will tell you a secret, once you get to design there is no one correct answer there are a ton. I am grateful for this different way of thinking and being able to come up with an array of answers to the problem at hand. As a final note now as I am approaching the end of my “formal education” I want to take more courses outside my major, like drawing and foreign language courses. I am glad we have the system setup the way it is and I will be a big proponent of taking as many courses outside your major as possible. I really do believe it makes you a well-rounded student.

I think the following from Dan Edelstein really sums up his piece nicely: “it is not that humanities disciplines are more innovative than their scientific counterparts: it is simply that students are required to practice innovative thinking earlier on in their studies. Though there is a great difference in outcome between, say, a close reading of Balzac’s Père Goriot and the development of a new software operating system, both rely on similar cognitive processes.”

Qualitative Grading and its Bias

After reading the Case Against Grading by Alfie Kohn I found myself agreeing with a lot of his points. After thinking about it, it does scare me that we would potentially get rid of the grading system entirely, just because it is human nature to put people in boxes and categories. How would we have/replace a quantitative system to gauge people and place them into universities ? I think we would still need some standardized testing that gives us the chance to assess what people actually know. While I think standardized tests don’t really do this well, I can’t think of another way to do this. Do you have any suggestions ?

Another thing I worry about is this concept is purely based on how well the teacher assesses the students. I mean people have different expectations and knowledge bases. A teacher at one school might have a much more stringent idea of what is necessary while another teacher is not quite as versed in the material. So there would be a big discrepancy in what is taught or how it is qualitatively graded. I will say my personal experience with college education has made me question what institutions teach and what they expect from their students. I did my undergrad and masters at a top 50 school and then I came to Tech. The difference in expectations and work load was very apparent. I guess that comes with the territory of going to a better school but I always just assumed any ABET accredited program was more or less teaching the same things. However it is more of a baseline of what needs to be taught and the school can go above and beyond that.   I feel like there might be a lot of this happening.

That being said I think the current system is broke and we need a solution. I like the idea of qualitative grading but I worry that some teachers wont be up for it and that we need some metric to measure progress. What are your thoughts ?

Gaming Teaching vs Conventional Teaching

After watching the Vimeo video Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st century I thought I would share some of my concerns / comments with you folks.  The first thing I want to say is this is a really novel and amazing idea. It is really nice to see the educational system embrace technology and conforming to this new way of teaching. I think presenting subject matter through the use of games or other forms of media is very unique way of secretly teaching the children at this school.  I would think it surely beats lectures in some aspects. That being said I am worried that this style of teaching is kind of catered to kids that are already “gamers or computer junkies” which is fine, but I worry that this style of teaching is assuming all these kids want to go into a game development or computer science related job.  I worry that they are so young and this curriculum might be too focused on the gaming aspect.  What if gaming is just a hobby and not a passion they want to make a career out of ? Do you think this gaming teaching style is as good as a conventional education ? I say this because I feel like the way conventional schools are setup is all these different opportunities are given to you. This allows you to try them all. As it turns out you might be really great at something you never thought you would be. I am just worried that these kids are being Pidgeon held into a life that they did not choose but was forced on them. Let’s face it they are kids and at that age they really don’t know any better or what they really want.

As a final though, in the video the kids go on to say that they still have conventional classes, however that just have different titles. Also a teacher says that they cover all the material required by the state. My question to you is do you think what they cover is as comprehensive as other conventional schools?

The “getting by” Mentality

The TEDxKC video “What Baby George Taught Me About Learning” by Michael Wesch really made me reevaluate my undergrad career. So many of the things he and his students brought forward are so true of the collegiate system today. I think the notion of “getting by” in school is very prevalent. As an undergrad I definitely had this mentality today. You just need to get the minimum amount of work done just to get a desired grade in the class. It wasn’t even really about the learning it was just about hitting the required marks to pass the class. I will say this with a caveat, that most of the courses I applied this to I was not passionate about.  So my question to you out there is who is responsible for correcting this notion? Should I be required to take these courses? Could it be supplemented for something instead? Could the courses possibly be catered to individual students so we actually get something meaningful out of the class?

I think Michael Wesch did a good job of addressing these issues with his student that was constantly sleeping in his class. He pulled that student aside had lunch with him and figured out what was going on with this student. After learning what was going on in his life, he put him in a more applicable course where he was able to peruse what he was passionate about. This is kind of an ideal scenario and I question is it realistic to think we could do this for every student? I also think there are just some courses you have to pay your dues with. Especially for engineering there are some really dry courses that are just requirements and there is no way around it. What do you guys think about some of these points?