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create Oct 2015 Guy Littlefair

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create Oct 2015 Guy Littlefair

  1. 1. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA | OCTOBER 2015 71 EDUCATION Professor Guy Littlefair is the Dean of Engineering at Deakin University in Victoria. HEADING What’s the best way to create a learning environment to benefit engineering students? When I look at engineering programs in Australia and compare them to other areas of the world, I am struck by the fact that so many of our courses are aligned more to the sciences than they are to the design disciplines. The primary function of an engineer is to design and innovate. It’s really important that we align our teaching, our undergraduate and post graduate teaching much more towards the design disciplines than to the science disciplines. The approach we have taken at Deakin is to come up with a new Bring design into engineering EDUCATION General Chair of the 2015 Australasian Association for Engineering Education (AAEE) Conference, Professor Guy Littlefair talks to Kevin Gomez about the challenges facing engineering education today.
  2. 2. ENGINEERS AUSTRALIA | OCTOBER 2015 73 EDUCATION curriculum framework. This is a design-based framework, where students, right from day one of their program, have the opportunity to get involved in collaborative industry-focused projects. The curriculum is supported by the underpinning of science and maths. I am not getting away from that being a really important feature. The primary focus is on the design projects and how the design projects can be supported by the maths and the sciences. How can we better engage engineering students and reduce dropout rates? When I look at the more traditional engineering programs, I see a curriculum which has very little to do with engineering in the first two years. If I was an 18-year-old thinking about becoming an engineer and wanted to go to university, I would expect to be dealing with engineering problems right from the very beginning. If we have an education program and an environment which really grasps the student, makes their learning exciting and relevant, then we are going to see much lower attrition rates in the future and many more successful graduates going into the industry. What do you aim to get out of the AAEE conference? I would really like to redefine engineering education. Let’s draw a line under the past and focus on the future. How are we going to educate our students? How are we going to make sure that when our students graduate, they’re ready for industry? How can we engage with industry all the way through our programs to make sure the product the universities produce is going to be of use? If we can achieve a very forward-looking universal view of what engineering education is going to look like, then we will have achieved an awful lot from the conference. What kind of support will you need from government or other institutions to make that a reality? Governments of both sides talk about the importance of engineering, the importance of innovation and the importance of providing a scaffold to make sure that Australia can be an innovative economy, an economy that’s built on smart technologies. To do that, having an independent advocate, similar to the chief scientist, who can talk about the big challenges facing Australia around engineering, around infrastructure, around manufacturing, will actually make a difference. I think that the science community in Australia has been very successful in becoming very visible. I think society at large understands the importance of science. I don’t see society at large understanding the importance and the relevance of the engineering profession. What can be done to address the declining number of students taking science and maths in high school? It is a problem. I think we need to portray engineering as a profession very much for what it is rather than for what people think it is. The connotation in Australia is that if you are an engineer, you’ve got dirty hands, you wear a blue coat, you make mundane decisions. The reality is that you probably wear a white shirt and a suit. You are making decisions that affect not just those around you, but society at large. If we can portray engineering for what it is, I think that will assure parents that engineering is a good path to follow. That should impact on school students. The Centre for Advanced Design in Engineering Training at Deakin University offers future-focused facilities.
  3. 3. EDUCATION The other thing that we are doing at Deakin is trying to engage with the students in primary and in high school. We are supporting the F1 in Schools challenge. [F1 in Schools is an international competition for children aged 11 to 16 years. Groups of students have to design and manufacture a miniature car out of the official F1 Model Block using CAD/CAM tools.] We are the Victorian hub for that and using our new building as an environment to assist high school teachers in delivering on some of the sciences. We’ve devised some specific primary and high school programs where students experience what a modern university is like. If we concentrate more and more on the primary end of things then there is good hope for the future that you can have a good amount of students who will come into tertiary education through the maths and sciences and engineering route. What can we learn from leading universities overseas? In the US there are some real standouts. Olin College comes to my mind where they’ve really done away with the traditional lecturer – it’s much more student-based education. The staff act as facilitators. They guide the students through their learning. In the UK, Coventry University has a similar model. Another new university in the UK is The JCB Academy, which focuses on design and engineering. James Dyson in the UK has been very vocal about how engineers and designers need to come together much more closely. There are things happening across the world. To some extent we are a little bit stuck in the past in Australia. It reminds me of New Zealand, where I spent six years before coming to Australia. In New Zealand, the focus is export, it’s all about the external environment. I compare that to Australia and there seems to be much more of a focus on the internal market. It’s almost a closed domestic view of the world. I think that that also transposes across into the engineering education sphere. We concentrate too much on the past. We concentrate too much on producing students for our own local industries rather than having that global view of the world. Trying to educate students who become graduates who can go and support industries not only in Australia, but right across the world. The boom in the resources industry has certainly driven up interest in civil engineering over the past few years. However, advanced manufacturing has been in a bit of a decline and numbers in mechanical engineering are probably down across the sector, although this year they so do seem to have bucked the trend and have moved up slightly. When we look towards advanced manufacturing driving a smarts-based economy, we need to be careful that we are producing the right type of graduates who will fill those jobs in the future. Let’s draw a line under the past and focus on the future. CADET provides students with access to high- end equipment including rapid prototyping and 3D modelling.