Teaching Engineering effectively7 min read

The steps for teaching engineering, currently used by many higher institutions fail greatly as it rewards true engineering insignificantly. In most cases, it greatly opposes true engineering learning.

Steps presently used for teaching Engineering

1. Theory lectures

The lecturer introduces a topic, for example, the voltage divider rule then he explains it. 

Here is what happens: almost no student knows what is being taught. This is because the human brain does not work that way. People do not just understand topics because they are explained to them. Humans cannot understand in words and numbers, things that have physical parts.

Some teachers know this, so their descriptions would normally involve objects that the students must have seen in the past. For example, the ‘plumbing pipe’ illustration for explaining the relationship between current, voltage, and resistance. A person is shown a table stands a better chance of describing that table than someone who the table was described to and then asked to describe the table.

Teaching Engineering
Credit: Pexels.com – This is Engineering

Most Engineering innovation cannot be done by analyzing words and numbers void of what the represent in real life. But if a student is thought words and numbers, void of visuals, it would be almost impossible for them to progress the analysis based on that. Learning from words and numbers without visuals in involuntary cramming.

But even visuals are not enough when teaching some topics, especially with increased complexity. For example, it may be difficult to describe the operation of a generator to students who have never dismantled one before, using just words and numbers. Sadly this is exactly what is done in many universities. Words are crankshaft, armature, and others are used with no image whatsoever being shown. Yet when the students fail to explain what they were not thought they are failed and stigmatized.

The reality is that many lecturers never show a visual representation of what they are teaching. Tertiary institutions know this, and this is why they have Laboratories.

2. Experimentation

The students are made to take practical courses, in the laboratories that teach the same topics that they are learning in the theory classes.

Such laboratories normally containing large, expensive, and sophisticated machinery developed for the purpose of teaching those topics. For example, in electrical/electronics engineering laboratories, there are machines for learning ohm’s law, Kirchhoff’s voltage law, and so on.

These machines are of little or no use to learning for a layman. Every student must be assumed lay to a topic being taught. 

Some lecturers claim that students should already be familiar with a topic before it is taught to them. This is the cry of a lazy or ill-equipped lecturer. Students’ parents paid money for them to be made into Engineers.

Engineer at Work
Credit: Pexels.com – Field Engineer

In a machine that teaches Ohm’s law, there are holes, representing resistors, other holes representing a voltage source, and so on. They the students are tasking with connecting the holes to form a circuit that teaches a particular topic.

There are two ways to do this:

  1. The students are given the circuit diagrams beforehand: when this is done, the active student just locates each circuit symbol on the machine and connects them according to the circuit diagram, and no learning is done whatsoever. The only thing most students learn from this is how to open their eyes wide enough to see already visible symbols.
  1. The students are not given circuit diagrams: here the technician or technologists have to help much else the students would not be able to complete the tasks. Even after his or her help they still almost never understand the underlined principle being taught.

Here the students are basically asked to remember what they never knew and create things from the knowledge they don’t have. 

Experimentation as a way of teaching Engineering students a new topic has failed massively. Most of the public within and outside tertiary institutions do not know this because when a student fails, the student is often blamed.

Also, the failure of students is highly profitable to higher institutions of learning because the difficulty of examinations is probably one of the tools used by some rankers of the university for ranking. Because of this, some Heads of departments actually request for scores to be reduced in order to curb excess high grades.

Steps for proper Engineering teaching

1. Theory class

As discussed earlier, topics must be introduced using visual aids. Every single phenomenon or object to be taught must either be made available or represented with visual (tangible) aids.

2. Project

Students must be tasked to work with the actual machines or pieces of equipment that exhibit the theories being that are being taught. This means that tertiary institutions would have to have those machines. For example, when teaching students about ohm’s law, each student should be supplied with batteries, resistors, wires, and a bulb. Then they should be a task with proofing ohm’s law using the materials given to them,

Before doing this, the lecturer must have properly introduced the topic.

Whilst the students attempt to develop the project, the lecturer must be available to be questioned by the students and he/she must provide honest answers but the lecturer should not tell them how to develop to project.

RF Technician
Credit: Pexels.com – RF Studio

Each project should constitute a part of their assessment.

After the project is due and assessment is done, an explanation should be done using the most correct student’s project to explain how to properly develop the project.

It is rare for a person to forget what he/she learned whilst developing something. For example, if a person makes a kite out of a paper today, he/she would most likely be able to fashion a paper kite a few months later.

This reality is intensified when several projects are done within a month or two with increased difficulty. 

By the fifth project, it may be seen that almost every student completely understands the first, second, and third topics in a permanent way.

3. Experimentation

Students should be directed to a laboratory when they pose some questions. Outside the student lecturer relationship, every single experimentation is motivated by a question. No real-life Engineer just goes to the laboratory to use machines when they are not trying to find the answer to a specific problem. For example, when a student wants to know how many of the batteries he should use, he could go to the laboratory and observe the relationship in values between the voltage sources and load on any experiment machine.

Laboratories should be open to all students at all school hours and laboratory attends should be available to explain topics and answer the questions of students without helping them carry out the experiment.

4. Theory classes

the project should be due before the close of a topic. That is, if the last class dedicated to that topic is today, the projects must be due for submission yesterday. 

This may mean that in some topics, students would only have a day to do all these.

The lecturer must re-explain all that he had explained about the topic. And explain the relationship between the project and the theory.

Any student that successfully developed the project would already understand all that would be explained during this final class.

Such students would find, forgetting all the learned to be an almost impossible task. In other words, it would be rare to fail.

These steps require:

  1. Lecturers that are knowledgeable enough, both for the theories and the projects.
  2. Technicians and technologists that are knowledgeable enough for experimentation with the available machines.
  3. Students that are willing to learn. Presently, of the three, this is the most available.

Oghuvwu Blessing

I am a Computer Engineer with a bachelor's degree in Electrical/Electronics, practicing roboticist, and member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (N.S.E.) Some of my works include prototyping and I'm proficient in Arduino programming, circuit design, and circuit implementation with some of my research featured on the Research gate. I am a STEM tutor and robotics instructor, I have tutored over three hundred and fifty students on robotics, engineering, and programming. With some of my students competing in international competitions like Technovation girls.

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