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bobjengr
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Platinum
Combining Theory and Practice
bobjengr   7/26/2012 7:24:04 PM
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I graduated in 1966 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  One of my greatest regrets was not completing my Master's Degree.  Viet Nam was raging, I joined the Air Force, then the kids came, etc etc you get the picture.  I would definitely agree that a Masters is desired in today's world.   I would also state-- go right into the course work and don't take a break between BS and MS degrees.  Also, GET YOUR PE.   I have been able to secure many  consulting and contract jobs just by indicating I have a PE.  Two of the most valuable experiences in my university days were: 1.) My coop experience and 2.) Discussing with my professors the course work itself.  I took my "book learning" at a time with the professor who wrote the book taught the course.  I did not have TAs in the classroom feeding me the professor's notes.  It was "the guy himself".  I suppose in that respect we were very very lucky.  At any rate, it was a great experience.   All of my professors tried to interweave day-to-day reality into their lectures so we actually solved "real-life" problems.  That fact, coupled with very interesting labs, maintained our interest and gave us some hope that "this stuff is really useful".   One other thing.  We had classes six (6)—yes six days per week.  MWF and TThS (mornings only).  In other words, we recognized why we were attending college.  I'm not too sure some engineering students realize why they are there.   I am all in favor of using the technology available; i.e. online classes, U-Tube video, etc etc to enhance the educational experience but, in my opinion, you cannot beat the classroom experience.

ricardo
User Rank
Silver
Re: Combining theory and practice
ricardo   7/25/2012 7:31:09 PM
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>  I meant that theory without practice is unreal.

I certainly second that.  The best Engineering courses have always been those that mandated (a) year(s) out in industry.  This is the norm for a German Dip. Ing.  In the UK, the 4 yr students joined the 3 yrs students (who didn't have an Industrial year) for the final year and the difference not only in capability but also attitude was  marked.

I would NEVER hire an engineer straight from Uni unless he could show some (exceptional) practical experience.

Back to the original topic.  Online courses etc certainly have a place to play in modern education but they don't even replace good Textbooks.  I'm sure all of us have moth eaten textbooks dating back to our first years at college which we still refer to from time to time.  And I don't mean reference books either.  I wonder how many 'online resources', iNteractive or otherwise, will be still treasured in 40 yrs time.

This beach bum spent some time last week downloading some ancient textbooks which are now out of copyright.  Fondly remembered and still revealing new insights in the 21st century.

But of course there were also texts which are only fit for the bonfire .. 8>D

SparkyWatt
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Combining theory and practice
SparkyWatt   7/25/2012 6:01:10 PM
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I think you missed my point.

I did not mean that lecture or theory is unimportant.  I meant that theory without practice is unreal.  Online courses are just that (unless you are dealing in software).  You can't do hands-on on line. Period.

ricardo
User Rank
Silver
Re: Combining theory and practice
ricardo   7/25/2012 5:40:42 PM
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While I fully agree that more Practice is always good for an Academic course, we shouldn't ignore the lecture theatre.  eLearning, with or without iTeractivity is fine but no replacement for a good lecturer.

A good lecturer does more than dole out knowledge.  He involves the student in a way no machine can imitate.  I'm sure we all remember lecturers whose periods was a joy rather than a chore.  A good teacher imbues feeling for a subject.

We are very far from replicating intelligent interaction between teacher and student with AI.

Here's a good example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcL66zx_6No

SparkyWatt
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Combining theory and practice
SparkyWatt   7/25/2012 1:56:23 PM
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I think the danger of this kind of thing can best be seen in the "Engineers" who, having their degree, designed and simulated a product and pronounced it good.  When it was built, it failed validation tests.  Their answer: "It passed simulation, there must be something wrong with the test setup."

There is no substitute for hands-on.  A curriculum that is not centered on it is fooling itself.

Beth Stackpole
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Combining theory and practice
Beth Stackpole   7/25/2012 8:30:45 AM
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Absolutely true that online materials should enable and augment hands-on learning as opposed to being another way to push rote material. But with the widespread adoption of smart phones and tablets, the online medium can be a great adjunct to enhance the learning experience. That said, as you well note, Chuck, only if done right.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Combining theory and practice
Charles Murray   7/24/2012 5:58:52 PM
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I need to temper my remarks by disclosing the fact that I got my engineering degree a long time ago, when online classes hadn't been dreamed up yet because nobody knew what the word "online" meant. That said, it seems to me that there are great possibilities here, and there's also a great risk of doing it poorly. The best of all worlds would be to use the online model to tap into the expertise of remote practicing engineers (as Prof. Craig describes here), who actually might find it easier to get involved in classes because they are online. The worst of all worlds would be to place lectures and course material from the book online, without any effort to put the material in context. The good schools -- the ones that survive -- will be the ones who see this fork in the road as an opportunity to do even better, rather than as an annoying change that needs to be addressed.

williamlweaver
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Hands-on engineering
williamlweaver   7/24/2012 10:14:43 AM
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Great point, Beth... Our integrated science major encourages and facilitates co-ops and internships for our students as part of their undergraduate degree program (we don't have the resources to require and then find local industry experience for all of the students).
 
Another thing we champion is the use of "real-world" procedures and equipment in our curriculum. Rather than using "training equipment", when feasible, we purchase and maintain commercial equipment in our laboratories so our students get hands-on training. 
 
When it is time to introduce new concepts, we present the material from a theoretical foundation and then we quickly move into applied examples and actual laboratory experiments so we can connect the theory with practice while it is fresh.
 
Another thing that I push personally is the use of computers and smart phones in the classroom. Asking a technical person to memorize tables of constants or solve the quadratic equation by hand may be great in 7th grade to improve memorization skills, but when the numbers count, we can't afford math goofs. Being able to Google facts and figures, brush up on concepts using Wikipedia, and solving equations using Wolfram Alpha allows our students to concentrate on defining problems and designing solutions without all of the "high-school-rules" clutter.


Beth Stackpole
User Rank
Blogger
Hands-on engineering
Beth Stackpole   7/24/2012 8:06:19 AM
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I absolutely agree that best practice and hands-on expertise has to be a critical asset for engineers coming out of school, in addition to pure text book and theory learning. Think about doctors who do internships and residencies to practice their skills and develop deep expertise while on the job. Teaching hospitals are an accepted norm. Same should be said for various engineering roles.



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