New approach to teaching of engineering

Rana Imam, Craig Childs, Patricia Idaewor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the teaching of engineering in universities, it is a common tendency to emphasise the numerical skills and methods in the problem definition and solution. While this mathematical approach is right and necessary, on its own it isnot sufficient to prepare graduates to meet the challenges of their future practice. Designing for people with diverse needs, capabilities and interests requires compromise solutions rather than absolute numerically optimised solutions. This paper presents the case for integrating consideration of human factors into the teaching of core engineering courses. With this, engineering graduates will become well-rounded and able to make sound decisions that consider the impact of their designs on people. If associated learning in primary schools is used to good effect, why not extend the concept and continue to usethis technique in later study? One solution is project-based learning. Problem based learning (PBL) is a huge step forward from the learn-by-rote methods, but it is not the whole answer. This is because with PBL, the student is always presented with a problem; however, in real life, the engineer must ask the question "how do you know you have a problem?" If all you learn is done by PBL, you never quite have to address this really important issue. Failure to do so means that there isa tendency to approach a problem from the perspective of your pre-existing knowledge - a highway engineer will see every problem as a highways one, a structural engineer as a structures problem etc: "to a hammer, every problem is a nail". Bydeveloping the skill of determining what the 'problem' is, we can make our engineer(ing student)s much more capable of bringing fully perceptive approaches to the resolution of the issues facing civilisation in the twenty-first century. The paper will discuss the above issues, first in the broad conceptual sense and then will consider how this might be incorporated into engineering degree programmes ,using the opportunity afforded by the radical approach to the design of degree programmes currently being introduced in the Civil & Environmental Engineering department at UCL as a real-world example for study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-28
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Learning
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • current engineering education
  • teaching of engineering
  • social sciences intergrated into scientific degrees
  • numerical methods lacking human factors


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