The ERE faculty and staff met this month to discuss a new article, “Undergraduate Engineering Curriculum: the Ultimate Design Challenge”, by S. Ambrose, published in the The Bridge, 16-23, Summer 2013, a periodical of the National Academy of Engineering.  The meeting was organized to consider how changes in SUNY Seamless Transfer paths and ABET program criteria for environmental and similarly named engineering programs for 2015 might be incorporated into the ERE curriculum along with new findings for best teaching practices.

Ambrose’s The Bridge article recommends creating the curriculum by using skills of systems thinking, critical problem solving, and design, based on concurrently using 6 key findings from learning research on best practices for designing curricula. For each of the 6 key findings on best practices, I summarize below the practice, its goal, and the how of implementation.

1. Finding 1: Context and Continual Integration Promotes Transfer of Knowledge & Skills. Goal –continually engage students in integration of knowledge and skills across context and time on tasks the students’ value. How–acquire component knowledge and skills, practice them to point when they can combine them fluently, then use them when appropriate.

2. Finding 2: Early Exposure Lays the Foundation for Future Learning. Goal –introduce engineering students to design in 1st year to expose them to thinking like an engineer and motivate learning. How–use design courses each year to reinforce design is open ended and engineering challenges extend beyond domains (i.e., sponsored by agencies, NGOs, communities). First year is more conceptual, the last year is more technical. Develop skills to: structure ill-structured problems and decompose problems; implement systems perspective; identify parameters and constraints; work in teams.

3. Finding 3: Meaningful Classroom Engagement Leads to Deeper Learning. Goal –enhance learning with deliberate practice coupled with targeted feedback in and out of the classroom, providing opportunity to apply concepts or principles, and consider alternative approaches or designs. How– to achieve realistic practice and feedback then accomplish meaningful engagement in many ways, including: peer instruction in conceptual questions; realistic case study problems connecting theory and practice; problem based learning using analytical and integrative thinking; flipped or inverted classrooms; collaborative and cooperative learning.

4. Finding 4: Reflection Connects Thinking and Doing. Goal –continually interweave thinking and doing to capture meaning of learning experience and establish structured reflection. How–structure reflection with low stakes writing and mathematical assignments (i.e., focus on concepts, not correcting for writing or mathematical errors): ask students to express what they are learning and how it connects with what they already know, and how they might use the knowledge in the future; create e-portfolios allowing students to assemble and showcase evidence of learning.

5. Finding 5: Metacognition Supports the Development of Lifelong Learning Skills. Goal –students continue to learn independently and are disabused of the presumption that engineers work only on problems that can be solved using memorized facts and procedures. How–engage students in metacognition, defined as the process of reflection and directing one’s own thinking. Self-directed learning requires students: assessing the task at hand, including goals and constraints; evaluating their own knowledge and skills including strengths and weaknesses; planning their approach in a way that accounts for the current situation; applying various strategies to enact the plan and monitoring their progress; reflecting on the degree to which their current approach is working so they can adjust and restart the cycle as needed.

6. Finding 6: Experimental Learning Opportunities Connect Theory & Practice in Authentic Settings. Goal –create an educational environment that weaves the connections back and forth across the formal and experiential curriculum. How–engage students in experiential learning activities, such as co-ops or service learning, so they apply what they have learned before entering the workforce.