How to Train 21st Century Engineers for Tech Discoveries

By Garcia, Paulo; Professor, Assistant et al. | The Canadian Press, January 31, 2019 | Go to article overview

How to Train 21st Century Engineers for Tech Discoveries


Garcia, Paulo, Professor, Assistant, University, Carleton, The Canadian Press


How to train 21st century engineers for tech discoveries

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Paulo Garcia, Assistant Professor, Carleton University

The year is 1985. Portable CD players like the Sony Discman are the epitome of consumer technology: a battery-operated device that allows you to listen to music anywhere (provided you brought the CDs as well).

A recent graduate from electronics and computer engineering programs understands how the portable CD player works. They cannot build it without the precision tools and materials, but they can certainly design it: they understand how audio is encoded onto a CD's surface, the mechanics of reading those data and the signal processing hardware and software that transform them into sound.

The year is 2019. The smartphone is the epitome of consumer technology. A marvel of complex hardware: integrated circuits that handle wireless communication, graphics processing, a microprocessor more powerful than those found in home computers in 1985. Layers upon layers of software, from a complex operating system to applications powered by virtual machines. A device an engineering graduate does not understand.

The slower pace of engineering education

Technology has surpassed technological education. There are so many concepts, techniques and tools that an engineering graduate should know, but there isn't enough time. This is not a novel insight, but it is getting worse, and this gap between education and market demand has serious consequences.

Students are less motivated, as they realize the gap between what they are learning and the technology they use will not be bridged over four years of undergraduate education. Employers are frustrated because they want graduates to have mastery over the latest programming language or design methodology. And yet, engineering curricula have changed little over the past 30 years. Oh yes, we've modernized our labs and we're no longer teaching obsolete programming languages, but the bulk of the knowledge is the same.

Teaching the basics

Curricula remained more or less the same for good reason: we need to teach the basics. We could educate towards market requirements and teach only the latest programming languages or make students memorize the meaning of the latest buzzwords -- but that would be a disservice. This would equip our graduates with the skills required for the next five years, but it would also prevent them from growing beyond that. We want to equip students with the knowledge and the skills to be life-long learners, which is the only way to survive in a technological profession. …

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