Excellence in Engineering Technology Education

By Reese, Susan | Techniques, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Excellence in Engineering Technology Education


Reese, Susan, Techniques


The South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence is teaching students through an innovative approach that brings relevance to the learning process by simulating a realworld, high-tech workplace.

In 1994, the South Carolina State Board for Technical and Comprehensive Education undertook the task of closing the gap between the demand of the state's industrial community for skilled engineering technicians and the number of engineering technology graduates of South Carolina technical colleges. This reform initiative led to a 1996 National Science Foundation award establishing the South Carolina Advanced Technological Education (SC ATE) Center of Excellence.

The mission of SC ATE is to "increase the quantity, quality and diversity of engineering technology graduates from the state's technical colleges." The center uses an integrated, problem-based curriculum, collaborative teaching strategies and extensive active-learning techniques that are implemented through faculty and student teamwork. The student team members learn from one another and encourage one another in an atmosphere that fosters cooperation and commitment. Faculty team members provide additional instructor support and work together to help ensure the success of each student. These strategies and systems all work together to achieve the goals of higher recruitment, retention and graduation of engineering technology students.

In a field where the attrition rate in the state technical college system has historically been high, retention and graduation were major goals. In fall 1998, colleges in the South Carolina technical college system began implementing a package of reforms that targeted the critical first year of engineering technology education.

Those SC ATE engineering technology students who are slightly underprepared begin with Technology Gateway, which is a one-semester pre-engineering course. It integrates the study of math, physics/technology and communications. The ET Core Curriculum follows Technology Gateway--or may be entered directly if the student has the necessary preparation-and is a three-- semester course of study that integrates math, physics, engineering technology and communications. Both of these components are already in place at three colleges-Piedmont Technical College, Tri-county Technical College and Florence-Darlington Technical College-with expansion in the works at two more. Piedmont Technical College has also teamed with the Newberry County Career Center to bring the Technology Gateway program to Newberry area high school students.

The initial results of SC ATE show great promise with increased enrollment and higher completion rates. That success may be based upon the motivation that the center's methods instill in the students. Because it is an interdisciplinary, applied approach, students learn not just through academic exercises, but also through solving technical problems in a learning environment that simulates the workplace. ATE emphasizes teamwork among students to complete assignments, which also mirrors a real-world, high-performance workplace and increases the level of commitment of the students.

Elaine Craft, the center's director, calls it "truly integrated, just-in-time instruction." Students start with a problem, learn the math, science and communications necessary to solve the problem, then arrive at the solution by working in teams. The solution may be oral, written or through the building of a model. As in the real world, problems are sometimes open ended, so different teams may come up with different solutions. …

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