Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Reimagining engineering and computer science tutor training for the 21st Century

I have been asked to help teach engineering and computer science tutors how to tutor. But first, what is the role of the graduates of these disciplines in the 21st century? The College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) at the Australian National University (ANU) has set out to reimagine engineering and computing for the mid 21st century.

The re-thinking of ANU engine ring and computing includes how to teach them, with Reimagine Co Design Culture Lab this week in Canberra. This includes consecrations of "Transformational education experiences that give a distinctive edge in technological problem formulation, with experience curated from the breadth of engineering, computing, science, social science and humanities". Some of the key aspects of this are creativity, collaboration, and human needs.

For STEM students trained and selected for their skills in narrow technician specializations,  creativity, collaboration and meeting human needs, are a challenge. For teachers who have also been trained in a narrow technical area, how to teach these broader skills, and assess them is also challenge.

The answer I suggest is authentic education and assessment. That is the teaching should be as much like the real workplace as possible. Students are then given a real task and assessed on how well they do it. Hardly anyone spends their days working by sitting silently in a big hall listing to some giving a presentation, so that should not be how they learn. Hardly anyone works by answering written questions on paper, alone, with no reference materials, so that is not how they should be assessed.

University teachers can be trapped in a vicious circle, where they teach using the same poor techniques used to teach them. The problem is that university academics receive little teacher training, and then pass or poor practices to their students. Even when offered more extensive teacher education, academics are busy teaching, or researching. Tutor training, provides an opportunity to break this cycle, by showing the pre-career academic, alternative ways to teach, before they become too busy to lean.

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