Scholarship on engineering education has taken some big steps forward recently. In the spring of 2004, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) released a new report, The Engineer of 2020. Almost simultaneously, Purdue University and Virginia Tech announced the creation of departments of engineering education. Then in January 2005, the Journal of Engineering Education narrowed its focus to research on engineering education. During the summer and fall of that year, Purdue sponsored a series of engineering education colloquies with the goal of defining a research agenda for the engineering education research community. And throughout this past year, engineering faculty members across the nation have been participating in an ASEE-led Year of Dialogue on “Advancing Scholarship on Engineering Education.”
This progress is occurring across the full spectrum of engineering education scholarship as defined by Boyer—discovery, synthesis, application and teaching. And while individual scholars in engineering education might focus on one category over another, the overall health of engineering education depends on the collective strength of research on all four.
The community of engineering education scholars is to be congratulated for the quality and rigor of its work. The progress they’ve achieved will help to engage engineering faculty members focused on traditional technical research, to convince funders and peer reviewers of the value of scholarship on engineering education and to ensure that the knowledge base of scholarship on engineering education remains robust and continues to grow.
Support for engineering education scholars is strengthening. The NAE Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education provides tools and resources. The Annals of Research on Engineering Education, www.AREEonline.org, is a Web site designed to support scholars working on discovery and synthesis. Peer Reviewed Research Offering Validation of Effective and Innovative Teaching, www.PR2OVE-IT.org, provides support for scholars working on application and teaching.
Although we embrace a diversity of interests, the ultimate focus of scholarship on engineering education is to improve how engineering knowledge, skills and abilities are learned. The objective of engineering education is to educate agile engineers, along with communities of other professionals who can draw on an engineer’s way of thinking to address challenges worldwide. We need to communicate this objective to peers focused on traditional engineering research and to potential funders, while at the same time maintaining an overall balance in scholarly approaches.
While we are primarily focused on improving the quality of engineering education, we can achieve even greater success by promoting research in fields outside engineering, especially in the learning, cognitive, behavioral and social sciences. The importance of learning from people working in these fields was highlighted at a recent meeting of principal investigators sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Human and Social Dynamics and Research and Evaluation in Engineering and Science Education programs. The meeting brought together researchers from many disciplines working on a wide range of issues related to engineering education: learning processes; simulations and games as aids to learning; social dynamics of learning interactions; socio-cultural aspects of interactions among and between faculty and students; and organizational influences on the implementation of learning paradigms. Our efforts to engage scholars from other fields will be facilitated if research on engineering education scholarship meets or exceeds their standards of rigor.
William A. Wulf is president of the National Academy of Engineering; Norman Fortenberry is the director of the Center for the Advancement of Scholarship on Engineering Education-National Academy of Engineering .