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Engineering Profs Get Low Marks in Princeton Review Survey

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Rob Spiegel
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Right Brain Left Brain
Rob Spiegel   8/29/2013 8:17:38 AM
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Hey Chuck, I wonder if this is a right-brain, left-brain problem. Those who are strong in engineering may not be as strong in communication. Teaching is essentially communication. 

a.saji
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Silver
Re: Right Brain Left Brain
a.saji   8/29/2013 11:46:02 PM
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Yes not sure whether they asses both sides. Would like to know which side takes the major decisions in decision making process. Anyway seems like the survey's are showing signs where the manual teaching methods are not working it seems.    

Charles Murray
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Re: Right Brain Left Brain
Charles Murray   8/30/2013 5:46:51 PM
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I hadn't really considered the left brain versus right brain connection, Rob, but it makes sense. For whatever reason, though, it's not always an issue. I know many engineers who are wonderful communicators. When I think back to some of my college profs, however, I realize that your left-vs-right theory is valid. 

jlawton
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"Teaching", REALLY?
jlawton   8/30/2013 9:01:49 AM
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When I went to engineering school there was a war on and a draft, and if you had a low draft number and poor grades they stuck a rifle in your hands and pointed at a rice paddy. The professors knew this and they viewed giving lectures with the same enthusiasm most of us reserve for jury duty. Besides if you were a full professor at the campus I went to, you weren't even obligated to acknowledge the presence of undergraduates, if you ranked below that at least (mercifully!) you weren't obligated to actually respond to their questions. Besides everyone knew engineering was just an "intake" to scoop up future Nobel-prize-winning particle physicists who just might have registered for the wrong course, and to take the money of those who weren't, which kind of eased the pain of having to put up with them for four years. They also came up with cute little "diversions" like putting engineers in the same introductory chemistry course with the pre-meds who knew they had no chance at getting into med school unless they got straight A's and who would sell their grandmother's hide to get in, just to keep the competitive situation "interesting". And if a student had ANY degree of self-doubt he had plenty of "options" because in order to get from one part of campus to another you had to take footbridges over places with names like "suicide gorge". And this was before in-class photographs were practical, lectures consisted of seeing if you could write all the matrix algebra equations down in your notes before the lecturer could hit the button on the motorized blackboard and cover up the material. Of course if the lecture was about a mathematical derivation they'd only present about every fourth or fifth line, it was UP TO THE STUDENT at test time to "parrot back" the intermediate steps he'd never seen before. I have frankly never understood what part you all think "teaching" plays in this because in my experience everyone employed by the school tried as hard as they could not to have anything to do with it.

RogueMoon
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little has changed
RogueMoon   8/30/2013 9:26:33 AM
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My hat's off to "jlawton".   Spot on assessment.  Granted, when I was in school, the draft was gone, but the big business of the university's "degree factory" was in full swing.  Like your investment broker, if you win or lose, they still get paid.

Professors needed to publish and win grant money, everything else was secondary or only a means to achieving this.  I had a professor who spent 15 minutes in the lecture then left.  No questions, no explanations, just data dump (plop!) then "see you next week".  The university didn't care about anything unless something socially unsavory was involved.   Only if you embarassed the university to disrupt their cash flow would they bother to discipline anyone of their staff.   The students mortgaged their futures into at least a decade of debt (and their degrees actually made money, eventually).  Those who made it and achieved something in the workplace surely earned it, but it wasn't the university that did much.

Going to college was to have this life-changing experience called 'education'.  You learned three things from the prof: (1) it's always your fault if you don't understand (2) reading the book is always the answer (3) you should know this stuff already.

DB_Wilson
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Re: "Teaching", REALLY?
DB_Wilson   8/30/2013 9:51:38 AM
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All too often faculty members that were vying for tenure or a permanent position were being judged by their research and ability to get grants and not by their success as an instructor.  This is why some graduate students can be better instructors than faculty members.  I had some instructors that were great researchers and lousy instructors.  I also have some very good instructors in math and engineering that were interested in teaching and used their research skills to put them in the teaching role.  When in engineering grad school, I saw faculty members trying to choose which teaching assistants to put where to attempt to get those with the best communications skills and practical skills in the labs where those skills would be most effective.  This was in a department where the undergraduate administrator and graduate administrators only had MS degrees but were as compentent as many of the PhDs in the department.  (The grad administrator's book was in its 4th edition and was used in several universities.)  These men saw the mission of the department as producing good engineers with some capable of doing great research and not just a research institution.  I hope they have managed to maintain that balance sime i left the instirution 35+ years ago.

jlawton
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Re: "Teaching", REALLY?
jlawton   8/30/2013 10:40:45 AM
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DB_Wilson,

The notion that you can even talk about a "balance" between engineering education and research without cracking up tells me your experience was worlds apart from mine! The prevailing message where I went was "you 'innovate' by creating theories on your blackboard or notepad, these theories might need to get 'proved out' in the laboratory but that's a 'dirty' business you can assign to your grad students". I was later to learn that my institution was known once upon a time as being renowned for the experimental rigor used in their labs, but a spate of projects whose experimental results had not correlated well with provable physics had produced a faculty mentality that was distrustful of experimental results and thoroughly enamoured of theoretical models, even if those models were of phenomena that plainly did not exist in the physical world. As a result by the time I was enrolled there the very physical world of engineering was NOT held in high regard at all, unfortunately for those of us students who were condemned to try and make a living in it after graduation.

Ockham
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Gold
Re: "Teaching", REALLY?
Ockham   9/12/2013 1:18:55 PM
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Brilliant! Simply brilliant. :-) A great post.

Experimental physics is "dirty business" to "assign to grad students". A sad but true commentary on the rapid fall from grace that once existed between theoretical and experimental physics.

Little wonder that most of the cool new PROVABLE applications of science - those which required tedious experimental work to bring to life - are published by men and women who have Chinese or Indian surnames. Those are the folks who seem willing to do the hard experimental dirty work, whilst the ivory towered "theoretical physicist" (whatever THAT is) spouts unprovable ideas about alternate universes and string theory.


Ockham

 

Ollie Prophet
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Bronze
Problems with Engineering Instruction
Ollie Prophet   8/30/2013 10:07:28 AM
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Seems that the problems I encountered while attending Stevens Tech in the late 70s / early 80's are still impacting the school's reputation.  From my prospective, here are the aspects of the level of instruction that were, and apparently still, lacking:

1. Too many foreign language teachers.  I expect my instructors to be english as a 1st language proficient.  The material is difficult enough, asking students to decipher a heavy accent is not cricket.  Especially at the prices these schools are charging. 

2. The non-foreign instructors tended to be older professors that had been teaching engineering classes since the invention of the steam engine, and had long since forgotten what it felt like to not know the material being presented.  I believe a good teacher needs to understand what it is like to not understand, so that they will try different prospectives. 

Having said this, there were many excellent teachers at Stevens, but they tended to be younger, American-born TAs or junior professors.

notarboca
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Gold
Re: Problems with Engineering Instruction
notarboca   8/30/2013 2:44:39 PM
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Have to agree with your point of 1st language English speaking instructors.  I had to take a materials class 2 times because I simply couldn't understand the instructor.

Charles Murray
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Re: Problems with Engineering Instruction
Charles Murray   8/30/2013 5:33:46 PM
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I have to admit, notarboca, that if I had dropped classes that involved teachers with language problems, I probably would still be in school today. My school -- the University of Illinois at Chicago -- had a LOT of teachers with English difficulties when I was there.

JimT@Future-Product-Innovations
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Re: Problems with Engineering Instruction
JimT@Future-Product-Innovations   8/31/2013 11:57:45 AM
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Concurring with Ollie & notarboca - #1 Issue was language barrier.  A Japanese instructor with 'At- best' broken English, masked by a thick accent that sounded like he had a bunch of marbles in his mouth, trying to explain the principles of Calculus.  Calculus is hard enough, darn-it!

sbkenn
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Gold
engineering teachers
sbkenn   8/31/2013 8:02:51 AM
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Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach. Thase that can't teach, lecture. Knowing the subject doesn't mean that you can teach it. I know one lecturer who can't teach, and doesn't even know his subject !

TJ McDermott
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Not necessarily limited to accent
TJ McDermott   9/2/2013 7:24:34 PM
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Several of the instructors I considered the best in my education had an accent.  However, they took their teaching duties seriously.  The top educator I had was uniformly cheerful, watched carefully to see the lightbulb turn on in students' eyes, and even joked about his accent when it caused MOMENTARY confusion.

I also had abysmal instructors (some with an accent, some without).  Usually though, those instructors were only teaching assistants (graduate assistants, whatever they were called).  Instead of an instructor with decades of experience, the TA was only a year or three ahead of the undergraduates.

Charles Murray
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Re: Not necessarily limited to accent
Charles Murray   9/10/2013 7:28:00 PM
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I agree, TJ McDermott. Language tended to be a greater barrier for TA's, as opposed to profs.

Debera Harward
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Silver
Good professors are blessing
Debera Harward   9/13/2013 6:56:48 AM
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Charles , i totally agree with you professors play a very important role not only in engineering but in any professional university . These days having a good professor means you are highly blessed. In my graduation i have come across many very good and average professors . I myself have faced the issue of having not that good professor in my first semester that destroyed my whole chain of that particular courses. If any instructor of your pre requisite course is unfortunately not good than you have to suffer a lot .

Charles Murray
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Re: Good professors are blessing
Charles Murray   10/3/2013 6:32:51 PM
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Agreed, Debera. The other problem with having a bad prof in the first year is it discourages students, potentially causing them to leave engineering. For the reasons we've both mentioned, I think universities would do well to put their best profs in the early part of the curriculum.

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