The ASEE Year of Dialogue (YOD) began in June 2006 with the plenary session of the ASEE annual meeting in Chicago and continues throughout the year at section meetings and other ASEE-related events. A concerted effort has been made to be inclusive and engage the broad membership cross-section at every level. The most prevalent way, however, are the YOD events at section meetings where the participants represent the segment of membership that may not always attend the national meetings. Four sections conducted their annual meetings during fall 2006. These were the Midwest, Middle Atlantic, St. Lawrence and North Midwest sections. At each of these meetings, a YOD session was held and the discussions documented.
The YOD focus of discussion started out to be narrowly defined as scholarly activities in engineering education. It’s the type of research very few of us engineering and engineering technology educators get a chance to engage in. That is because usually there is not much funding associated with this type of research, or even in the event of funded educational research, we don’t seem to get much recognition for our efforts and do not enjoy as much reward compared to those colleagues who are engaged in basic and applied research in discipline. If we are in the business of engineering education, why is it that the education part of our profession does not carry as much significance as the engineering part does? This may go back to the way most engineering faculty members are trained for the job. In order to become a faculty member at a research university or even at an institution that emphasizes and values effective teaching, one must have a Ph.D. degree. The only way to get a Ph.D. in engineering has been to conduct research in a narrow area within a discipline where the measure of success is the amount of funding that can be secured and quality and quantity of published research papers.
It is interesting that during the interview process for university engineering teaching positions, hardly any effort is made to qualify the candidates as effective teachers. It is rather the capability of producing proposals and securing research funds that is often the only criteria to differentiate the better candidates in the pool of applicants. A new phenomenon has begun that may change this trend. The formation of engineering education departments at various universities, such as the one at Purdue University, is a welcome addition that may be a catalyst for change. These programs emphasize and reward scholarly activities in the field of educational research. The products of these programs are graduates with doctorates in engineering education. The measure of success for such programs is whether their graduates are successful in finding employment at major universities. These programs have been in existence long enough for us to now follow their graduates. Washington State University, for example, hired one of the first engineering education Ph.D. graduates. So far, it appears that these graduates have been successful in securing good positions. I believe that the departments hiring them should be congratulated, for they are indeed trendsetters and visionaries.
Once the Year of Dialogue got under way, it was soon recognized that in order to engage and excite a broad cross-section of ASEE constituent groups, the focus of the YOD discussions had to be expanded to address all related challenges that we face conducting engineering education research. The discussions at various sectional meetings, so far, have included questions such as what constitutes learning in engineering education, what are best teaching practices in engineering education, what constitutes scholarly teaching and what instructional technologies work best for engineering education. Before we can effectively define scholarship of engineering education, these and other related questions will need to be answered.
Let the dialogue continue!
J.P. Mohsen is professor and chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Louisville. He is also ASEE vice president of member affairs.