Building Oil Rigs with Future Engineers


Design and construction

I have just spent this morning running an “oil rig” building competition with visiting school children who are considering an engineering degree.  The challenge was to build a structure to support a brick (the oil rig) 7cm off the ground with drinking straws and map pins (thanks to Andy Weightman for allowing me to steal this idea. ) Continue reading


Creative Communication

I recently set a piece of coursework for the Structures 1 course I run asking students to , “…identify study and research the behaviour and design of an existing structure. Present your findings on a maximum of two sides of A4 or equivalent (e.g. 1 side of A3, or a short video or any other means of communication)..”  This resulted in many good submissions and analyses of structures ranging from park benches to cranes to bridges.  One highly creative video submission looked at a structure similar to about 7 billion others. Me!!  Among other things it appears I am about 1% shorter in the afternoon than in the evening.  I think this is  a great example of engineering communication – well done to Robert Cushworth, Hamish Mayall, Jordan Lowrey and Jake Wheeler

Tools for Engineering Design

A few weeks ago I attended the 5th Engineering Education Symposium held at the University of Manchester.  At this I presented this paper which discusses a new course I developed with Tim Stratford, Alison Furber and Martin Crapper while at the University of Edinburgh where we tried to develop design teaching to more closely reflect the demands likely to be made of graduate engineers over the next decades.  While it is difficult to predict the exact abilities that future designers will need, computers seem likely to do ever more calculation-based tasks, while more creative and open-ended problem-solving based skills will be relatively protected from automation (for example see this paper).  With these thoughts in mind we developed a course to help second year undergraduates develop skills in solving open-ended engineering problems and in communicating their ideas.

AECOM Competition Entry

I have been working over the summer with a group of students on an entry to this competition run by design consultancy AECOM.  The brief for the competition was very well conceived and deliberately intended to bring to together multi-disciplinary groups of architects, engineers, planners and others.  The team from Manchester consisted of two engineers, an architect and a planning student, working with academics from each School.  Although unfortunately the entry didn’t make the final in New York, it was selected for a regional competition – we will see!

Whatever the outcome of the competition, developing links between all those who work in the built environment in universities is very welcome.  Civil and structural engineers tend to get “stuck” in departments where interaction with other engineers is easy but interaction with architects is difficult.  This may be simply because they are in different buildings but commonly there are bureaucratic barriers, such as being in different faculties, too.

Structural Engineering Basics

StructureFrom September this year I will be teaching the Structures 1 course to both Civil and Aerospace engineering undergraduates here at Manchester.  This will be a large class so there will be limited time for me to interact with students on a one to one basis. With this in mind, I will be experimenting with two (new for me) approaches to teaching. Continue reading

Everything you ever wanted to know about learning theories…

Most academics think quite a lot about how their courses are structured, how effective each part is, and how students respond to material. Similarly, educationalists have a range of theories for how people learn. Unfortunately the two groups tend to use very different language for similar concepts and often talk past in other rather than benefit from each others’ experiences and insight. This rather clever figure may help matters by offering some translation!

Thinking Outside...

…all on one page!  This fantastic and very useful map was created by Richard Millwood as part of the HoTEL project.  An interactive version can be found here.

Learning theories images

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The Future of Engineering Lectures

Lectures have been around since the time of the Greeks.  Text books are rather younger but have changed little in the last 100 years, except perhaps for the addition of colour.  Together they have formed the basis for university education for many decades suggesting that they are either very effective or ripe for change.  Or maybe both.

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