Engineering and Networked Learning

Engineering and Networked Learning

For this first post I wanted to start with a brief background of myself for anyone reading. I’m an Environmental Engineering grad student at Virginia Tech with an undergraduate degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Michigan. I’ve taken one English class since high school and I can say that course was the most connected to the concept of networked learning and online engagement of any of the math or engineering courses I’ve taken. I think coming from a very technical background I have had countless “traditionally” taught lectured – at courses and while I don’t think they are the best idea, I haven’t quite understood a better one.

 A key topic of this week’s readings was the idea of incorporating the internet and computer literacy into the classroom and I will admit, as an engineer, I am a bit confused. I found it very hard to understand quite what the writers and members of videos were saying meaning when they used this term and the vagueness of using the “network” made it hard for me to visualize what this might look like practically in a classroom.

 I think I probably come from one of the least connected fields both in industry and in the classroom. Sure we’ve tried having online quizzes, homework that you upload and the occasional youtube video shown to impress on us the importance of taking your job seriously, but I wouldn’t say I understand the idea of “networked learning”. I agree with Gardner Campbellā€™s article on Networked Learning as Experiential Learning in that I believe computer literacy and understanding basic elements of coding are vital to surviving in this day and age and that I honestly don’t think I was ever taught these elements. This may be predominantly a factor of my age and the fact that I learned with the world on how social media develops and basic web etiquette. But I don’t necessarily disagree with my field and the luddite approach I’ve been predominantly taught with thus far. I feel strongly you must understand a lot of key concepts, equations and applications to be educated in becoming an engineer, which is essentially a vocation and I’m not sure would even qualify as “true learning” even though I can design my way around a water treatment plant.

 My current understanding of teaching and I suppose learning is, I believe, very traditional. Most of my classes have assigned weekly problem sets with varying degrees of graded weight and then we were tested on the topics presented. I can count on one hand the number of classes that have deferred from this model but I can’t say I think its entirely bad. I never had the opportunity to participate in the “flipped classroom” but all I’ve heard about is that students were completely lost throughout and there was little guidance. I know that for me, the most meaningful instructors have been readily accessible and excited when I came to them with questions. They kept their doors open at all hours and would thoroughly try to answer questions or would point you to someone who could. The engaged professor has been the most helpful to me but I don’t think it actually helped me learn the material. I think the goal of teaching course with the idea of imparting knowledge drastically changes depending on the type of course you are responsible for.

 When thinking of the kind of instructor I hope to be, I struggle with wanted to be innovative but also effective. I think being accessible to students is vital but I struggle with the idea of how to engage struggling students. I’m excited for what this semester has to bring in terms of thinking on these ideas and I hope there is some time spent not only on contemporary pedagogy and how to connect the internet into the classroom but also just on pedagogy because a lot of professors can get to the classroom without ever having been taught about teaching.

11 Responses

  1. Unknown says:

    As a fellow engineering student who has been in and seen countess traditional classes I can surely sympathize with you! It's great that you have a vision about the kind of instructor you want to be and it would be interesting to see how or if that vision evolves during this semester.

  2. Unknown says:

    Hi Ishi,

    I really appreciated your post. Something that I've struggled with while going through the readings and materials for this week were how sort of narrowed and insular in focus they were. There wasn't a lot of consideration of context of different courses or the notion that more digital integration wasn't always equivalent to a better learning experience.

    I think, like you, that the balance needs to be struck between innovation and efficacy. It was really interesting to hear about this from the perspective of an engineer, as opposed to the social scientists by which I'm usually surrounded!

  3. Sputnik2 says:

    These concerns and reservations resonant with me too. (This is prof. Nelson, btw….Blogspot remembers me as "Sputnik2" and it's too late in the evening to try to straighten that out.) But I think the readings and video were less about digital affordances per se than about the ways we can use networks (like this one) to better connect with each other (and our ideas), and to amplify learning. This isn't to say that mastering specific skills and being able to execute a task aren't important, particularly when you're working on a water treatment plant. We're just going to examine some of the assumptions we have about how we learn and what makes good teaching. I'm not surprised that you've thought that teachers who were accessible and ready to answer questions were the best! As teachers, our job is to support and nourish that curiosity — to awaken that interest in understanding the how and why, not just instill the answers to the questions that are on the test.
    I may be way off base here, so please ask me in class if I've missed the boat. Thanks, Ishi! (and Go Blue!)

  4. Haniyyah M. says:

    I agree about the importance of instructors who make themselves available and are actually eager to help. However, I think the main obstacle traditional engineering classes have to figure out is the concept that if a student is indeed struggling with the material then going to office hours is the answer. That or reading the textbook. The learning provided for an engineering student by the instructor in a traditional class are: lectures, notes, textbook, or office hours — all to complete a problem set and prepare for the exam. Certainly there has to be other ways to incorporate learners who don't absorb information by being lectured at or having their heads in a book all day. This does not necessarily mean they will not internalize the key concepts, equations, or applications necessary to be an effective engineer.

  5. Jake Garner says:

    I really appreciate your comments about engineering education. I did my undergraduate work in chemical engineering and have since switched into studying higher education, largely because I felt like the learning I did in college happened everywhere except in my engineering classes. The homework and test setup you described resonates with my experience in engineering, and there's a stark disconnect between that and the way I think about learning from the perspective of an educator. I was handed problems to solve that had a set singular solution in order to master concepts, but any real world problem is far more complex than that. While it's easy for me to be critical of those professors teaching engineering, I'm not sure I could offer a better solution.

    Each concept of engineering is difficult as it stands, so to actually make sure a student is proficient in each of those concepts is key prior to integrating them. In my experience, my education was mostly coming to understand concepts with very little focus on how to integrate them in a productive or creative way until the very end. How does one ensure that students are fully equipped with all the tools they need to be an engineering while simultaneously preparing them to use them in complex and indeterminate situations? It's a tough position to be in, and I'm glad to hear that a scholar of engineering is reflecting on those intricacies.

  6. Ishi Keenum says:

    Thanks! I'm really excited for this course and seeing how to better educate and incorporate technologies in the classroom!

  7. Ishi Keenum says:

    I'm glad you liked it! I will definitely continue with this engineering lens as I'm really trying to reconcile whats better for learning and what is being done like it always has been.

  8. Ishi Keenum says:

    Thanks for your response! I did realize that the readings were more on connecting with networks but I was a bit confused how they related to the network concept we'd somewhat started to talk about in class. I think the reason why I connected with certain professors is because of my curiosity but I also think about how to connect with students who aren't that excited about the topic. How do you engage, evaluate and connect with students who really aren't sure they want to be there and are just doing this class because they think they should.

  9. Ishi Keenum says:

    I agree completely! As someone who learns best by talking it through and working in groups I was always very glad when teachers allowed collaboration on homework sets or I would definitely not have made it to grad school. I am interested in how to change the model you laid out. Is it through projects? I think that may be some of it but I also think that some basic topics are really best taught through practice. I'm struggling with these ideas and I'm hoping to think about it more this semester.

  10. Ishi Keenum says:

    Thanks! I'm glad to hear someone who knows about this teaching stuff can reflect on how daunting this challenge is. I'm not sure if I'll come to the right answer but I hope I get to an answer that works for me.

  11. Unknown says:

    Hi Ishi, as a fellow engineer, who has environmental and water treatment in their background, I appreciate your perspective on what you're used to for classes, being confused (I wish that Campbell had defined what he saw as networked learning, which can be nebulous), and the importance of computer literacy and coding. Our employers and being citizens of the world require computer literacy, and coding is often not required but increasingly beneficial to both.

    Thinking about the balance between new technologies and effectiveness is critical. There is a tendency in some fields, programs, and people to want to use the shiny new thing, even if it does not add a significant benefit. Some of these same groups do not appreciate the need to prioritize effectiveness, seemingly as if takes away some intangible benefit that these technologies can provide. I look forward to how you shape discussions with your engineering background.

Comments are closed.