2007 Lectureship Recipient

Dr. Richard Felder

Professor Richard Felder

Department of Chemical Engineering
North Carolina State University


"The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Engineering"

Educational research has been around for a long time.  When done right, it has the same standards of scholarship and rules of inference that characterize good engineering research. Unfortunately, these standards and rules have not often been observed in engineering education, and most of the literature of the past three or four decades consists of variations on the theme, “We tried this method and we liked it and the students seemed to like it too.” One problem is that educational research is much harder than engineering research, at least in terms of being able to get conclusive and repeatable results.   Students are not like I-beams or PID controllers or even fruit flies, and it’s next to impossible to design a research study in a classroom setting that controls for all variables but the one you’re interested in.   Another problem is that engineering professors are not generally trained in educational research, are largely unfamiliar with the education literature, and rarely interact with professional educators and educational psychologists.  (There are some notable exceptions to this statement.)  The engineers consequently have little idea of how to approach a research study involving human subjects. A third problem is that until recently there has been little incentive for engineering educators to undertake the major effort required to move up the educational research learning curve. They had few opportunities to get grants, couldn’t use their department’s graduate students, couldn’t publish in the “right” journals, and even if they were successful they would be likely to be relegated to second-class citizenship by their more traditional colleagues.
All of that is starting to change now, largely due to the efforts of the National Science Foundation, and a growing cross section of the engineering professoriate is now engaging in educational research and development. Two ubiquitous words have come to haunt many of these individuals: “Assessment” and “Evaluation.” It is no longer enough to say “Everybody liked this method and gave it high ratings.” The NSF review panel and the editorial review board of the Journal of Engineering Education will inevitably respond with some hard questions, like “What educational objectives are you trying to achieve with that method?” “How well has the method satisfied those objectives?” “How do you know—what are your assessment measures, your statistical procedures and criteria, your control populations?” “How do you know it’s not just the Hawthorne Effect?”  And so on.  This talk will discuss some of these issues, using several studies carried out by the speaker to illustrate the points.  The goal is not to offer a prescription for doing clean and definitive educational research:  there probably isn’t one, and even if there were, the speaker would be the last to pretend to know it.  Rather, the presentation is intended to share some perspectives, outline some difficulties the new researcher should attempt to avoid, and promote the notion that dialogue between relative newcomers to the educational research business (engineering educators) and professionals in that business (faculty members in departments of education and psychology) might be worthwhile


"Engineering Education in Five Years (or sooner)"

Engineering education is currently in a turbulent period.  Chronic industry complaints about skill deficiencies in engineering graduates, government commission reports supporting those complaints, and the ABET outcomes-based accreditation system that became mandatory in 2001 in the United States and is being widely adopted elsewhere in the world, all call for major transformations in the ways engineering curricula are structured, delivered, and assessed.  A growing ability of on-line universities to compete successfully for college applicants heightens the impetus for reform.  As might be expected, many faculty members and administrators are less than enthusiastic about proposed changes, arguing that the existing system functions well and needs no radical revision.
The ongoing debate involves four focal issues:
  1. How should engineering curricula be structured?
  2. How should engineering courses be taught and assessed (and what role will technology play);
  3. Who should teach?
  4. How should the teachers be prepared?

This talk outlines the opposing positions on each of these issues—the traditional position, which has been the predominant approach of the past five decades, and the alternative position—and offers predictions about the probable outcomes.