I am currently nearing the end of teaching a new course with Tim Stratford and Martin Crapper – Tools for Engineering Design. This is delivered in second year to Civil Engineers at Edinburgh with the aim of giving students confidence in working on complex, open-end problems that occur later in the curriculum and in engineering practice. We tried to do two things
- Introduce software tools that are widely used in engineering design. We focussed on Excel and ProgeCad (an AutoCad clone) because these are likely to be useful to all graduates. Traditional teaching methods are poor for learning how to use this sort of software (a lecture of “click this and then that” is deathly dull to both give and listen to). Indeed, learning to use a specific version of a specific piece of software to solve a specific problem is training rather than education and not a good use of an undergraduate curriculum. We felt a more engaging way of teaching would be to discuss the sorts of problems software is good (and bad) for solving. We set examples of these types of problem that students could try on their own and discuss with each other and lecturers. We assumed that all students are sufficiently capable and computer literate to learn how to use software quickly and focussed instead on teaching ways of using it as a tool to solve problems.
- Discuss approaches to solving open-ended engineering problems. The class worked through a range of problems, some short, some longer, that encouraged iteration in the design process, thinking about how to communicate designs, and developing confidence in approach vaguely defined briefs, as are common in engineering practice. A highlight was a crane design and build project with the catch being one group designed a crane while another built it. Without good communication this is impossible!
The course has been very well received by students and has been enjoyable to teach. It builds on earlier work I have done with Tim Stratford and Oliver Broadent on developing approach to conceptual engineering design, as discussed here