Notes from IStructE Academics’ Conference 2018

There was great energy at today’s IStructE Academics’ Conference, the theme of which was Creativity and Conceptual Design.
If you are visiting this site for the first time, it may have been thanks to Chris Wise’s kind recommendation in his keynote presentation – thanks so much Chris.
I presented a session on how to have ideas. Usually when I’m billed with this title, I run a workshop on idea generation, but I thought for once, I would stand up and say what I think about the subject. I’m glad I did because it seemed warmly received. It was also a chance to talk through themes that will be included in the chapter I am writing in a book on scheme design – more details to follow.

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The Beginning of Engineering Knowledge Club

Engineering Knowledge Club logo
Engineering Knowledge Club logo
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Almost nine months since we were awarded funding from UCL’s Teaching Innovation fund, Paul Greening and I kicked off ‘Engineering Knowledge Club‘. The idea is to encourage students to develop for themselves the engineering knowledge they need in order to be successful in the field of engineering they want to go into. We have set up a dedicated blog for Engineering Knowledge Club, which describes our aims for the project, so I won’t repeat them here.

But what I will say here is how excited I am about this project. The timing is particularly appropriate as I have been spending most of November co-writing a guide for the Royal Academy of Engineering on experience-led learning in engineering. Many of the ideas discussed in that report we can put in practice in Engineering Knowledge Club, for example:

Student–led learning – so much of the learning that I see happening in civil engineering courses seems to be motivated by grades, which probably stifles curiosity, intrinsic motivation and independence. I strongly believe that if learners were learning about what they were interested in, then they’d be self-motivated, perhaps work harder, and learn more effectively. Engineering knowledge club is about giving students the chance to define and drive their own learning.

Learning based on real-world stimuli – civil engineering is a subject that surrounds us, and so lends itself well to learning by observation. And yet, so much civil engineering education is based on text books, lecture notes and websites. Engineering knowledge club will encourage students to be inspired by, be curious about and learn from the environment which surrounds them.

Reflective learning – people tend to learn better when they think about how they are learning. Over the last two years I’ve experimented at UCL with Paul Greening and at Queens Belfast with Siobhan Cox on using private student blogs for reflective learning. While this has had some success, what’s been missing is students being able to learn from each others’ blog posts. Engineering Knowledge Club will give me the chance to experiment with using a public class blog. This will hopefully help to build a sense of community among the students, and should serve to demonstrate the concept to anyone interested.

Building a community of learning – I don’t feel that students are encouraged enough to support each other in their learning. I believe that a student cohort in which everyone is looking out for each other would be one that learns more. We hope to build a sense of community in Engineering Knowledge Club and be able to see its impact on learning.

We shall see!

Pursuing general knowledge – not such a trivial pursuit

trivial pursuit

The ability to design arguably sits at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, requiring as it does decent doses of creativity and evaluation. The foundations therefore of good design must be a broad general knowledge base. This certainly seems true in civil engineering. In order to quickly think up possible solutions to an engineering problem requires knowledge of material properties and behaviour, construction methods, costs, precedents, laws and codes etc. Continue reading “Pursuing general knowledge – not such a trivial pursuit”