Summer 2019

ASPIRE is a quarterly magazine published by PCI in cooperation with the associations of the National Concrete Bridge Council. The editorial content focuses on the latest technology and key issues in the Concrete Bridge Industry.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 43 of 55

A P R O F E S S O R ' S P E R S P E C T I V E 42 | ASPIRE Summer 2019 Let's Teach Engineering Like We Teach Baseball by Dr. Richard Miller, University of Cincinnati I f we taught baseball the way we teach engineering, no one would play. Before taking to the playing field, potential players would have to take separate classes on the rules, and how to throw, catch, hit, and run the bases, and they would initially have no idea why they were learning some of these things. They would have to spend years learning the basics in the classroom before they were allowed to play their first game. By that time, they would most likely have forgotten how to throw or catch because it had been so long since they had worked on those skills. If they managed to hit the ball and run to first base, they might have no idea why or what to do next. This scenario assumes players would not get completely bored with the whole thing and quit long before they ever played an actual game. What I've just described is how most colleges and universities currently teach engineering. In their freshman year, students take math and science classes, which mostly repeat high school coursework. Next, students take engineering science. They analyze b e a m s a n d c o l u m n s t h a t a re n 't connected to anything, and loads are given in the problem with little or no explanation of how they were calculated. Students learn disparate theories with little reference to actual practice. Design classes are usually about component design, first covering beams and then columns, but rarely entire structures. In the senior year, students take a "capstone class" where we expect them to pull it all together and design something. When this method of teaching is used, many engineering students struggle—just as you would struggle to learn baseball if you didn't actually play the game. Historically, engineering education was originally an apprenticeship program. In the United States, college degree programs in engineering started in the 1860s, when Congress wanted to establish land-grant universities to teach the practical aspects of disciplines like engineering. Engineering remained a hands-on type of education until the 1930s when European professors such as Westergaard, Timoshenko, and von Karman shifted American engineering education toward more theory, making it similar to the European model. In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. government began to fund millions of dollars of research to develop technologies, mostly for military purposes and the "space race." Universities responded by tilting engineering curricula further toward theory and science to meet the demand for research. At this point, some of the original proponents of the more theory-based education felt that the balance had tipped too far toward theory and that the practice of engineering was being lost. For modern students, the situation is complicated by the lack of opportunities t o w o r k o n p r a c t i c a l , h a n d s - o n p r o b l e m s . B e f o r e t h e y e n t e r e d college, past generations of would- be engineers had repaired their own cars, built amateur radios from kits, played with chemistry sets, and fixed household items. Today's students do not always have the same opportunities to fix or build things, and many arrive at the university with little practical, mechanical knowledge. S o , p e r h a p s w e s h o u l d t e a c h engineering the way we teach baseball. In baseball, we start by teaching a simple version of the game—the ball is hit off a tee, players can only advance Photo: ronniechua, © iStock by Getty Images.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of THE CONCRETE BRIDGE MAGAZINE - Summer 2019