New Engineering Education Research Group

Dr Robin Clark (EAS)
Dr Robin Clark (EAS)

Engineering Education research has been strengthened at Aston University through the formation of a new research group in the School of Engineering & Applied Science.

With the introduction of the new university fee structure in 2012 students will rightly be demanding more from the curriculum and their learning and university experience to ensure they are best placed to secure graduate level jobs following graduation. The Aston Engineering Education Research Group is one of only a handful of research groups working to provide the understanding that will enable colleagues across the sector to introduce innovative and relevant learning and teaching practice to address the needs of industry whilst engaging students in their learning.

Ahead of the group’s public event on Tuesday 6 March ‘Tackling Transition: Peer Mentoring as a Route to Student Success’, Aspects talks to Dr Robin Clark, head of Learning and Teaching Development in EAS and convener of the UK Special interest Group in the area of Engineering Education Research, to find out more.

“Ensuring the highest quality and most relevant, applied and engaging engineering education for students is the goal of every single university engineering department”, says Robin. “In order to achieve this, a thorough understanding of what constitutes good engineering education and how it can be implemented is fundamental.”

The Engineering Education Research Group is made up of both engineering and social science academics within the University and is concerned not just with HE but with every stage of engineering education, from primary school through to the employment of engineers and their continued learning. For the last three years the University has been conducting surveys with our students to establish what they think about engineering and engineering education and this has informed and improved learning and teaching at Aston.

Robin explains: “We believe that if society is going to avoid future shortages of engineers, it is important to ignite children’s engineering imaginations at an early age. We are working closely with several of the country’s leading primary level engineering education providers to establish a model of best practice.”

The group is evaluating outreach work with schools to determine what impact this has on educating future engineers. “Looking closely at the work that universities conduct in schools, we are in the process of identifying ‘what works’, ‘how it works’, and ‘why it works’,” says Robin. “Our findings will enable us to inform future outreach practice so that universities are able to make a more worthwhile contribution to schools.”

Similarly the group is also examining the role that peer mentoring plays in helping students to make the transition from school or further education into university and for this to be as seamless as possible. Good relationships - between teachers and learners, students and their peers, and students and other members of staff - have been identified as key to the student experience as students acquire a sense of ‘belonging’ and perform better academically as a result.

The group’s early findings have indicated that the ‘hands on’ nature of CDIO (Conceiving – Designing - Implementing – Operating) - which forms a key part of Aston engineering students’ teaching - is providing the high level, transferable skills required of today’s engineers. Furthermore, the opportunity for students to link theory to practice means that the main issues are taught in an imaginative way, bringing theory to life. It is important to use a range of different learning and teaching approaches in engineering education, including work-based learning, formal lectures, field visits, laboratory work, tutorials and electronic learning. The group’s research has shown that through the use of a variety of different learning approaches, students are kept engaged and the learning ‘fresh’.

The group is also looking at the best way of bringing business and engineering together to inform the curriculum and will be developing a ‘best practice’ toolkit that can be used in the future by all stakeholders to develop and build relationships to enhance society.

For further information, please contact Dr Robin Clark (Group Convenor) on ext 3567 or Dr Jane Andrews (Senior Research Fellow) on ext 3363.

Visit the Engineering Education Research Group webpages for full details of current projects.

Words by Louise Russell
3 February 2012