Monday, June 21, 2010

Well, Can We Accelerate the Rate of Change in Engineering Education?

Karan Watson, Interim Provost & Executive VP of Texas A&M University
She has a plum ’56 Chevy Truck, which she thinks is beautiful but she tells us “I don’t expect it to take me where it can’t take me any longer.” We cannot accelerate change unless we reframe what we are doing. We can deal with how students need to deal with challenges versus topics. She references Nalib Tassem’s  book Black Swan. Black Swan events are outliers and unpredictable. Our representation of reality ceases to apply but we don’t know it. Watson feels our process in engineering education is not rapid enough. Faculty behavior change is needed for educational reform. Throughout history science has progressed in non-rational ways but these ideas never get funded and rarely get praised. Don Tapscott in his article on the Impending Demise of the University suggests that the lecture at the podium will not work for these students. Tapscott doesn’t agree that Google is dumbing down this generation but argues that they can handle information overload better than we can. They are active and demanding as inquirers. They find out what they need to know on their own with Google and Wikipedia. 

Engineers are pushing society with technology at an ever accelerating rate. “We are failing society if we are not leading the way with the educational transformations that need to take place.” Engineering educators need to move from “tinkering phase” or “trial and error” with education innovations to wider adoption of these new ideas surfacing in the engineering education literature.

Use your resources:

Managing strategic change literature suggests we need to avoid quick fixes. Also individuals must disengage from the past to move forward. “A tempered radical” wants to stay in the boat but rock it  (and not go so far as to blow it up). Malcolm Gladwell in Tipping Point tells us that change is like a virus. It is contagious, takes energy, enthusiasm and personality.  There has to be stickiness in change (bloggers note: see also new book Made to Stick). Nothing sticky about working harder than you ever, but you have to see a small incremental benefit, so there needs to be an appropriate reward system.

She refers to Edward Schein, author of Organizational Culture and Leadership. You can tell culture of organization by artifacts and espoused values. Underlying assumptions disconnected with values.
Unfortunately there is deeply embedded resistance in some cultures. Find the “bell cows” in your cultures who should be followed.  The way to make the changes we need is to continue experiments with students and provide research data, pay attention to it, but real change will be in the efforts we put into the change of faculty. Change your own behavior.  

Watson believes that ABET will not hinder change if you get them on board with your initiatives.
·         Disciplines frame discourse in different ways but we can learn a great deal from sociologists, and others.
·        Academic reward structure limits change (education reform). There has to be incentives and people have to believe there’s a safe place to land if they go through this behavior change.
Bringing discussion of change into classroom: some of our best students are resistant to change because they can work alone well and take tests well. Students change fast, help students learn about learning. We have to find ways to weave into our courses about learning and change, as well we need to teach our students ethics so when they face situations in the future they know how to react.
·        You don’t have to be bad to get better – “whether change or improvement, starting out by insulting everyone who needs to change is not a very good strategy”
·        Advice for new untenured faculty: refers to Art of War. Think about the terrain you are in, if you are in a dying terrain then fight quickly. If your enthusiasm doesn’t match your institution you may be better off somewhere else.

·        Changing funding paradigms: slowly, Watson believes in shared governments, you can lead but not in a way that no one will follow, ask the right questions. Dynamic discussion with faculty about how we can evaluate their teaching is the first step. Set aside $2M in base funding for high-impact experiences such as service or international learning, could be research-based. These should result in deep learning for the students.
·        Engineers as educators: there’s a difference between being researcher of education and a great teacher. Positive deviance is the idea that some people get great results from some resources while others don’t.
All engineering educators need not become researchers of education.
·        Engineering world = have your data or dead on arrival. We have to tell good stories, people don’t change because of data but good stories.

And yes, in case you were wondering and are still reading, Watson does own a second vehicle. Is it a learjet?
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