The American job market for engineers is changing. In 'The World is Flat', Thomas Friedman argues convincingly that most jobs calling for the analytical problem-solving skills that engineering education has traditionally focused on can now be done better and/or cheaper by either computers or skilled foreign workers—and if they can be, they will be. Friedman also predicts that American professionals with certain different skills will continue to be in demand. His list includes creative thinking and entrepreneurship, the ability to recognize complex patterns and opportunities in the global economy and formulate strategies to capitalize on them, the communication skills and cultural awareness needed to establish and maintain good relationships with current and potential customers and commercial partners in developing countries, and the capacity for self-directed learning needed to stay abreast of rapidly changing technological and economic conditions.
Traditional engineering curricula were not designed to equip students with those skills nor were engineering faculty prepared to provide the requisite training, and there have been numerous calls for changes in both curricula and faculty development. As might be expected, many faculty members and administrators are less than enthusiastic about the 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 courses be taught and assessed (and what role will technology play)?
3. Who should teach?
4. How should the teachers be prepared?
This webinar outlines the opposing positions on each of these issues—the traditional position, which has been the predominant approach for centuries, and the alternative position—and offers predictions about the outcomes.
Richard M. Felder, Ph.D., is Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina. He received his B.Ch.E. degree from the City College of New York and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton.
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