Engineering Curricula: Understanding the Design Space and Exploiting the Opportunities

Project Status
July 09, 2012
National Science Foundation
Final Report
Engineering Curricula
Authoring InstitutionNational Academy of Engineering
Publication DateJanuary 01, 2009
Workshop that focused on the impacts that engineering curriculum structures have on how students learn and connect with engineering theory and practices.
  • The project team conducted a one and one-half day workshop that focused on the impacts that engineering curriculum structures have on how students (1) learn fundamental mathematics and sciences necessary for the engineering profession, (2) connect these fundamental skills to specific engineering theory and practices, and (3) retain an interest in engineering as a major course of study.

The project team was a subcommittee of the NAE Committee on Engineering Education.  The National Academy of Engineering utilized a committee of experts to assist in planning and executing the workshop. The committee members were recognized for their effectiveness and interest in developing curricular models and for their leadership in all aspects of engineering education. Additionally, they represented a diversity of disciplines, viewpoints and areas of emphasis.

As a framework for the workshop, the committee members developed the questions and discussion topics for the workshop around the skills and attributes described in The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century and around the recommendations put forward in Educating the Engineer of 2020: Adapting Engineering Education to the New Century. The workshop extended the discussions generated during these earlier study efforts in order to provide additional direction to those faculty and administrators actively working to improve and revitalize their engineering education programs. The broader impacts of the project include the definition of new curricular models that emphasize an early introduction to engineering design and to societal impacts -- characteristics that reportedly appeal to individuals in underrepresented groups.

In April 2009 a workshop, organized by a subcommittee of the NAE Committee on Engineering Education appointed by NAE's present, was held to explore how engineering curricula could be enhanced to better prepare future engineers. The workshop, summarized in this volume, included individuals from industry, academia, government agencies, and professional societies.During the workshop participants addressed the rationale for the scope and sequence of current engineering curricula, considering both the positive aspects as well as those aspects that have outlived their usefulness.

Other topics of discussion included the potential to enhance engineering curricula through creative uses of instructional technologies; the importance of inquiry-based activities as well as authentic learning experiences grounded in real world contexts; and the opportunities provided by looking more deeply at what personal and professional outcomes result from studying engineering.

General themes that appeared to underlie the workshop attendees' discussions included desires to (a) restructure engineering curricula to focus on inductive teaching and learning, (b) apply integrated, just-in-time learning of relevant topics across STEM fields, and (c) make more extensive use and implementation of learning technologies. During breakout discussions, many additional suggestions were offered for means by which to facilitate curricular innovation.

The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (DUE-0632843),