Editor’s page: Hyphenated engineering education, The

Editor’s page: Hyphenated engineering education, The

Lohmann, Jack R

Language, like the wind, signals change.

Have you noticed the change in expressions used in articles about engineering education? Pre-college students don’t just participate in programs to enlighten their understanding of engineering and engineers, they now are involved in “discovery-driven” curricula to prepare them for “technology-oriented” careers. Engineering undergraduates no longer attend a few hands-on laboratories to better understand the connection between theory and practice, now they are also involved in a variety of “inquiry-oriented” and “activity-based” exercises throughout their curriculum. And what about the ubiquitous term, “e-(insert any word here)”?

Out of curiosity, I examined the articles published ten volumes ago in the July 1993 issue of this journal and compared them with the articles in this issue. There is an average of about three and one-half different hyphenated terms per article referencing pedagogical concepts in this issue, and about one in every other article in the July 1993 issue (an average of one-half per article).* Here’s a sample of what you’ll read in this issue: activity-oriented courses, adventure-driven curricula, application-driven laboratories, content-related evidence, cooperative-based groups, human-centered design, inquiry-based learning, laboratory-oriented exercises, methods-oriented information, outcomes-based assessment, performance-based outcomes, research-based learning, rural-based projects, socially-relevant design, study-based exercises, and teamoriented projects.

What’s happening? Why has the language of engineering education become so hyphenated? Is it because these expressions are catchy terms currently in vogue? Does it a reflect a struggle by authors to describe the nuances of their curricular efforts? Or do these expressions signify a deeper recognition of the richness and complexity of engineering education?

We are all familiar with the major waves of change that have occurred in engineering education over the past half-century. The first wave occurred in the late 1950s to early 1960s when engineering education was transformed from a curriculum focused on the “art” of engineering to one based on science. This wave retreated somewhat in the late 1970s to early 1980s when engineering design was returned to a more prominent role in the curriculum. A second wave recently washed ashore in the 1990s when engineering education was transformed from one focused sharply on subject content (e.g., science, design) to one that now includes consideration of the educational process and knowledge gained (e.g., outcomes assessment). In essence, the discussion has expanded from one focused primarily on what engineering students should know (content) to one on how we know they know it (outcomes). This second wave was facilitated greatly by the implementation of ABETs EC2000.

Are we in the swell of a third wave? I am reminded of a comment by Alvin Tofler in his book The Third Wave, [1] “We grope for words to describe the full power and reach of this extraordinary change.” Recent articles in the Journal of Engineering Education have dearly archived the extent of change in engineering education; indeed, the transformation of the journal from Engineering Education to the Journal of Engineering Education speaks for itself. The current use of hyphenated expressions appears to reflect an effort by engineering scholars to more fully articulate the major dependencies, interconnections, and complexities of engineering education as well as some minor, but important, nuances, subtleties, and refinements. The field of learning science is both deepening and broadening our understanding of engineering education. Engineering educators appear to be in the midst of a transformation of expanding their normal engagement in the curriculum development process to one that simultaneously engages learning science methodologies with the aim of furthering the research base on learning.

This decade may mark another major change in engineering education. The transformation will not be so much in what we do, but rather in why we do it. Who knows how our expressions may yet change, but the current transformation will no doubt result in richer engineering curricula if based on sound research.

-Jack R Lohmann


*A hyphenated term referencing a pedagogical concept meant phrases like “learning-enhanced,” “design-oriented,” or “student-focused,” and not general expressions like “problem-solving,” “hands-on,” or “NSF-funded.” Only the first use of the term was counted and not the number of subsequent times it may have been repeated in the article.


[1] Tofler, Alvin. 1980. The Third Wave. New York, New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., p. 25.

Copyright American Society for Engineering Education Jul 2002

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