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Engineering Pedagogy

  1. Oct 18, 2013 #1
    Hello,

    I was curious, is there anyone out there doing research on how to effectively teach engineering? I have noticed that my engineering textbooks are very old, new editions come irregularly, which I can understand because the number of students buying the books is appreciably less than say a calculus book.

    However, the textbooks that come out are very dry with no pictures! Or the pictures are very crude diagrams. I think the diagrams with color that you see in modern physics and math textbooks enhances and gives visuals that aid in student learning.

    It seems also that the problems in an engineering textbook are far too few. A chapter might have 20 problems, and maybe only 5-6 of them are of any real quality, the rest is junk. A math textbook like Larson or Stewart will have 100 problems per section of a chapter, but maybe 40-50 of them are good problems. Even a physics textbook like Halliday will have 20-25 decent problems per chapter to work on.

    It seems like the engineering textbook authors are far behind the curve and using unsound pedagogical techniques. I think it's time to rewrite these books to have more visuals and follow the path that has already been set by physics and math textbook authors. These engineering books look like a math textbook from the 1950s. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I mean the covers are just black with the textbook name and author on the front, not even a cool image there!

    You can say ''well then write your own'' and my answer is if I ever got a PhD in my engineering discipline, that would be something I would definitely do!!
     
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  3. Oct 19, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    There's tons of research on how to effectively teach - some of it is directly concerning engineering, more about technical subjects in general ... but is there much about engineering that requires a special pedagogy?

    It is seldom a good idea for published text books to have many set problems in them.
    This is because students, having done the set problems, place the answers and working on the internet and future students can just Google their homework. The days of lists of exercizes in texts are almost over. I think you need to reconsider the role of such problems in education.

    I've taught from Haliday and Resnick and Tipler for instance - and not used the problems as part of teaching. I found them over-written (about 4x more pages than needed) for the course... but it can be handy for struggling but motivated students and I didn't have to write it myself.

    The best text I've taught from was a Nuclear Physics handbook ... about 20 problems per chapter and less than 200pp. What it missed I could add in two A4 LaTeX pages. Some students floundered and needed extra material.

    The best lecturers I've had have always written their own texts.

    Some texts have a separate work-book with exercizes, and there are online services which provide randomized assignment problems... each with their own inherent difficulties.

    But I have experienced what you have.
    Engineering text authors share an aversion of substantial problems with economics text authors.
    The avoidance is, apparently, due to a perception that students are put-off the subject when it gets "mathy" (I've asked both profs and publishers).
    Still ... economics texts seem to have more cartoons... there may be a perception among engineers that it is supposed to be a serious subject for serious people - I don't know.

    You don't have to be a PhD to write a text book. I've written two.
    The trick is to convince someone to publish them. If you are teaching, you will quickly be able to compile a set of exercises for your students using your college library and online sources so you also need to ask how big a problem it really is. Do engineering profs demand texts with lots of meaty problems in them?

    You should be aware though that College education, with it's emphasis on lectures and assignments with a final exam, has always used the very least productive of pedagogical models. To understand this, you need to understand that the primary function of a college is not to maximize learning but to sort out potential post-grads from the rest.
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  4. Oct 19, 2013 #3
    Not making a lot of exercises because other students can do the problems and post them on the internet is a ridiculous reason to not make a textbook with a lot of substantial problems. At the upper division level it's hard enough just to find what you are even looking for on the internet. Besides, the same thing can be done with fewer problems, it wouldn't be a reason for students to not post the solutions online. How can an upper division engineering student even convince themselves that they understand the material if there aren't even 5 decent problems in the chapter. Also, I am not suggesting adding cartoons, but rather visuals in the text that enhance the concepts more. There are a lot of them in stewart and larson type calculus books and halliday physic books.

    The purpose of the textbook problems is to help the student know if they understand the concepts. If you have 5 problems at the end of the chapter that are even halfway decent, that is not enough practice. What is the role of textbook problems in your opinion?

    It is clear that there is a need for easy, medium, and challenge problems so students can read the chapter and start working on the plug and chug easy problems to gain computational fluency and learning how to use the key equations given in the chapter, then work towards the medium problems to convince themselves of conceptual understanding and computational fluency, then challenge problems which add a little twist or trick to them where only understanding the concept and computational fluency is not enough, usually some information from a previous course, whether integrating an uncommon integral or otherwise, is implemented.

    At the intro physics and calculus level, there are solution manuals and lots of outside resources to help students, but once you get to upper division engineering (from what I have seen), the amount of outside help diminishes appreciably. Substantial problems do not need to be extremely ''mathy'', I thought that most of my physics textbook problems were supposed to be solved using algebra and trigonometry. Obviously calculus should be used, and there must be a way to have better problems. The problem with my engineering book is that the problems are too far removed from the chapter concepts itself, or the problems are 3 paragraphs long. I think a model like Halliday is not so bad at all or other mainstream books of its kind.

    How can I even begin to learn when the problem sets given by the professor all contain problems under the ''medium'' to challenge difficulty, I need some easy problems to get my computational fluency and get used to the equations presented in the chapter.

    It's good to know though that the purpose of a university, which I thought was an institute of higher learning, is to seek out graduate students. Maybe I should have gone to a teaching oriented institute rather than a research institute, but the research institutes are all the big name brands. How does using pedagogical techniques that are not effective intentionally help the universities achieve their goal of separating the future grad students from the baccalaureates?
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  5. Oct 19, 2013 #4

    WannabeNewton

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    Lol what? Since when did a lot of problems = good pedagogy? That makes no sense. Books like Halliday have a lot of filler problems which are either extremely trivial or overly computational with no physical insight; Stewart is 100x worse. What matters is quality not quantity.
     
  6. Oct 19, 2013 #5
    I said that out of 100 problems at the end of a halliday chapter, maybe 30-40 of them are good. Sure a lot of it is junk, but that's better than an engineering textbook with 20 problems with 5-6 good ones. I think computational problems are good to have for ''easy'' problems to get used to using the equations. You shouldn't be thrown at you a hard problem to begin with in my opinion right from the get go. It's a good confidence booster to for when you are learning the subject for the first time. I don't think you are seeing this from the beginners level who is struggling with intro physics, seeing as you are doing graduate level work, maybe it has been too long since you were in this position, or maybe you never have been where I am as far as the struggle to understand basic things. That is why these books usually the first quarter of the problems are just simple problems that require just knowing how to plug in the equations.

    My engineering book has neither quality nor quantity.
     
  7. Oct 19, 2013 #6

    Simon Bridge

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    That's great - tell that to the authors and the publishers.
     
  8. Oct 19, 2013 #7
    So you are proposing that the authors and publishers for engineering textbooks in particular have this view, then why would the Halliday's and Stewart's out there make textbooks with tons of problems? Are they not authors or publishers either? Is there something stopping students from publishing the answers online?

    the solutions are online already, you just have to pay for access
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  9. Oct 19, 2013 #8

    Astronuc

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    One can review a variety of engineering textbooks in our Engineering Textbooks forum.
    https://www.physicsforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=226

    I've used earlier version of several, e.g. Transport Phenomena by Bird, Stewart, Lightfoot and Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer by Bergman, Lavine, Incropera & DeWitt.

    I don't like a lot of pictures and textbooks for high school and introductory texts at university seem to have gone overboard with colourful illustrations. I'm one of those who prefer old black & white texts like those of McGraw-Hill or Addison-Wesley in 60s and 70s.
     
  10. Oct 19, 2013 #9

    jasonRF

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    You seem to think that your engineering books are the only ones that don't have a bunch of "plug and chug" problems. Are these books for upper division courses? If so, try comparing with upper division math and physics books - you won't find many "plug and chug" problems there either. I think the assumption is that students at that level need much less of that kind of drill so can spend more time learning concepts and solving harder problems. You can always plug numbers into the equations in your book and see the order of magnitudes of quantities - indeed this is a worthwhile thing to do.

    I am wondering what books you use if they all have 3 paragraph long problem statements. I am wondering what field you are in. I am an EE and found that the majority of books I had to buy for classes were reasonable. But there were a couple of stinkers, too!

    Anyway, again I will propose that the upper division math and physics books don't do nearly as much hand holding (workbooks, answers/solutions in back of book, etc) either, and will actually expect that you learned the math and other subjects that are the prerequisites (that is why you take all those fresh/soph classes - they are usefull). Also, upper division math/physics/engineering books sometimes do have problems that extend the material beyond the main text; the idea is to really challenge the reader and get them used to building upon foundations to figure out new things. This is not unique to engineering.

    In any case, I hope next semester your profs will pick books that are more useful for you. There certainly are some bad books out there, but at least in the fields I took classes in and have worked in, there are quite a few reasonably good books, too.

    I wish you the best,

    jason
     
  11. Oct 19, 2013 #10

    Simon Bridge

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    1. I was reporting the tendency - not an absolute.
    2. don't shoot the messenger - you don't like these answers, go do your own research.
     
  12. Oct 19, 2013 #11

    WannabeNewton

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    Well I would like to sympathize with you although I can't empathize as I have never seen or used an engineering text so I don't know how good or bad they are in general when compared to physics texts. I will admit it isn't exactly easy for me to put myself back in the shoes of the intro physics student and I am not doubting your claim about your engineering textbook being bad. But certainly not all of them can be bad? There must be good ones out there in the mainstream market for you to peruse. You don't have to torture yourself with just that one text.

    Having a lot of problems to do isn't always a good thing. It can be overwhelming knowing which ones to do and which ones to skip and whether doing them all would be beneficial at the expense of being too time consuming and so on. If you're really having problems with the text then try talking to your professor about it as he/she can suggest alternatives for your own self studying (even if the homework problems still come from the assigned text).
     
  13. Oct 19, 2013 #12
    I think as you get to upper division work, the amount of textbooks for a particular area become much less. I am in chemical engineering, and I know that is definitely a less broad topic than physics, and I wonder..how many upper division textbooks exist for a physics major? I mean, how many electrodynamics at the level of griffith's exist that are even worth looking at? Certainly whatever that number is, there is probably less for chemical engineering. There isn't as much competition I assume since there is a lot less people reading, so there might be 2 or 3 texts to choose from.

    I would like to add as a side note, my civil engineering textbook is an example of a textbook that meets exactly what I'm talking about, Beer and Johnson Statics and Mechanics of Materials. Every chapter has 100 problems at the end, and lots of good problems too. Plenty of artwork in the textbook, it follows the format that I really like. I think I need to put up a review for it on the engineering textbook forum. It looks like a modern textbook, whereas my chemical engineering book looks like it is from the 1960s
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
  14. Oct 19, 2013 #13

    jasonRF

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    EDIT: I was wrong here - sorry! I was thinking the Beer and johnson statics/dynamics books. OOPS. So perhaps there are some books just like you want in some fields. Too bad they are not in yours! Feel free to ignore the rest of my post!

    Beer and Johnson is a sophomore level book ... where I went to school mechanical and civil engr. students took two semesters out of that simultaneously with taking physics II (electromagnetism) and physics III (waves, optics, elements of modern physics) mostly out of Haliday and Resnick. I think some of the sophomore circuits books for EE majors fall into the same camp. Fresh/soph level books are typically written differently than upper division. Why? I don't know.


    But I do know that at the higher levels, "good" problems are much more involved than "good" poblems for lower level courses. I always learned more from a few long, involved problems that lead me to a significant result than doing many shorter, simpler problems.

    I am not familiar with ANY chemical engineering books - WAAAY outside my field!!! But I am like Astronuc, in that for fundamentals type subjects I tend to prefer the older books - for example the "modern" undergrad engineering electromagnetics books are mostly unreadable, with only a couple of exceptions. Perhaps this just indicates I am getting old! edit: perhaps your profs are even older than me!?

    jason
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2013
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