Education session comment piece: Engineering Education for the 21st Century by Professor John Hennessy

John HennessyEngineering education in the 21st century faces two different, but interrelated challenges. First, we lose too many students who express an interest in engineering but who struggle with the prerequisites and often depart for other majors before they actually engage in courses that focus on what engineers actually do. Second, engineers in the 21st century will need more emphasis on innovation, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and the ability to work in international teams. Addressing these challenges is likely to require more focus on hands-on, faculty-intensive, project-based learning. Such courses tend to better engage students, give them experience with  what engineers do, and help them develop the skills that they will need.

At the same, universities face the overall  challenge of improving student learning and outcomes, while moderating cost growth. The large lecture approach, while cost-effective, fails in terms of student engagement and effective learning a class with differing skills and abilities. The use of online technology appears to be one of the most promising approaches to improve learning and make it more adaptive without incurring large costs. Are there clear best practices  for online learning and for project-based learning? How should these two approaches be combined to create an engineering curriculum that is highly effective and affordable? Can online technologies successfully cross over to be used in more intensive, collaborative classes through the use of social media, crowd sourcing, and peer assessment? Although it is difficult to predict how exactly these approaches will be blended, it seems clear that engineering education will look very different in the decades ahead.

by Professor John Hennessy – GGCS education session keynote speaker and panellist

President, Stanford University

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