Meeting the growing demand for engineers and their educators: the potential for open and distance learning

Bissell, Christopher and Endean, Mark (2007). Meeting the growing demand for engineers and their educators: the potential for open and distance learning. In: 2007 IEEE Meeting the Growing Demand for Engineers and Their Educators 2010-2020 International Summit, 9-11 Nov 2007, Munich, Germany, IEEE.



Many organisations and individuals already offer distance learning in science, engineering and technology (SET). Offerings range from on-line lecture notes or home-grown simulations to global multi-media programmes with high-quality student support. There is, however, still a certain reluctance in some circles to accept that successful open and distance learning is possible in SET. Searching for 'engineering' in the courses and programs of one prestigious distance learning university in North America provokes the following response: As a distance education university, [we are] unable to offer courses in the area of engineering. Yet experience has demonstrated very clearly that the delivery of such learning is indeed possible. As with all teaching, open and distance approaches are successful only if based on good pedagogical design addressing the purpose, structure and pace of the material, hence engaging students and encouraging active learning. For distance learning such pedagogical design is often expensive, and can only be justified by comparatively large student numbers. Much open and distance teaching offers meagre student support. To be successful, course developers must integrate student support into the learning materials, including such elements as a modest number of face-to-face sessions or electronic communication at a distance. This presentation discusses these issues in the context of SET distance teaching and presents examples of good practice from the UKOU, including:1. an introductory course in ICT that adopts an issues-based approach, in order to de-mystify the subject and make it more attractive to students 2. resource-based approaches in engineering education 3. team projects at a distance 4. an emphasis on 'active learning' An argument is also to be made for the importance of openness if we really wish to promote engineering. In this context 'openness' means making programmes available to all students (even those without formal school-leaving qualifications) that will ultimately enable them to qualify as a professional engineer or an educator of engineers. The traditional approach to engineering education has been hierarchical and linear: a good school leaving certificate in mathematics / science followed by an often very theoretical university education plus an application-oriented final project. If we are serious about attracting new engineers, this will no longer do. An open and distance approach to engineering formation, based on outcomes rather than input educational levels, and with an emphasis on lifelong learning and professional development, can make a major contribution to change.

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