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Big Beacon Radio Ep. 6: Lessons from ‘A Whole New Engineer’

BB Radio HeaderEp. 6 -Lessons from ‘A Whole New Engineer’ for the Transformation of Higher Education

When educators think about transforming higher education they almost immediately start with modifications in content, curriculum, and pedagogy, but a recent book suggests that this approach is fundamentally flawed. Join the writing team of A Whole New Engineer: The Coming Revolution in Engineering Education, Mark Somerville (Olin College), Catherine Whitney (writer), and Dave Goldberg (BB Radio Host) for a lively conversation regarding the deep emotional and cultural changes and processes needed to change engineering education, and higher education more generally. The episode starts by looking back on the joy and difficulty of writing the book. It continues with reflections on key learning episodes and stories, and it concludes by reflecting on the “technologies of trust” necessary for transformative educational change. Join Mark, Catherine, and Dave for this important episode to better understand how higher ed transformation is fundamentally different from what it appears.

Listen on VoiceAmerica or download on iTunes podcasts.

Learn more about Big Beacon Radio, here.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

The 21st century transformation of education is profoundly emotional, but why is “emotion” such an uncomfortable subject?:

The idea that we might acknowledge emotion directly in education runs up agains a taboo for men (in many cultures).  From an early age, men are urged to suppress their unhappiness, sadness, or other negative emotion that leads to the emotional display of crying.  Sometimes this is done with understanding and concern, but oftentimes boys are shamed if they do cry, and the shame continues until they stop.

Read more, here.

Sign up Now: Facilitating Change that Sticks, 9-11 June 2015 (Tu-Th)

olin-college-logo@OlinCollege and @BigBeacon are pleased to announce the short course Facilitating Change that Sticks, 9-11 June 2015 (Tues-Thurs) at Franklin W. Olin College.

This three-day workshop develops participant skills and strategies for creating change that “sticks.”   In particular, we dive into a set of personal and organizational skills that will help participants develop both personally and professionally as effective change agents:

  • Developing coaching & negotiation skills, including noticing, listening, and questioning and 3 critical negotiation distinctions
  • Design and use of language in change processes, including sticky language, 5 speech acts, and the art and science of narrative analysis and design
  • Understanding and applying integrated change & culture change models, including those of Kotter and the Heath brothers.  The course also introduces and demonstrates application of the Big Beacon Change Model (BBCM) for effective engineering education transformation.
  • Leading from any chair, leading change both with and without title, authority, and responsibility.
  • Designing and implementing innovation structures within existing institutions, including incubators, respectful structured spaces, and change artifacts.
  • Using collaborative design process and facilitation as a change mechanism.
  • Understanding effectuation versus normal (causal) modes of planning for effective action when uncertainties are high.
  • Building and using culture and community to sustain change.

Through provocative readings, transformative experiential activities, and lively discussions we develop crucial frameworks for thinking about change, increase participants’ hands-on skills thereby enabling participants to return home as qualified change agents, and increase participants capability to be reflective and supportive in their teaching practice and their change leadership efforts.

More information is available at the link here or write deg@threejoy.com or sharon.breitbart@olin.edu.

The Coming Revolution

Olin College admissions officer Grant Hooton reviewed Dave Goldberg and Mark Somerville’s A Whole New Engineer.

The purpose of the book is to give insight on how to bring about change successfully, and explain and justify the necessary changes. These are captured in the five pillars of education transformation: ‘joy,’ ‘trust,’ ‘courage,’ ‘openness,’ and ‘connectedness, collaboration, and community.’ The authors propose that letting these pillars guide our instruction, we will produce the kinds of constructive education experiences that are necessary for tomorrow’s engineer. This should not be surprising to Oliners, because we live and breathe these pillars in all aspects of our lives.

Read more of Hooton’s thoughts, here.

Six Minds of the Whole New Engineer

David Goldberg and Mark Somerville’s A Whole New Engineer outlines the challenges facing engineering today and offers solutions on how to adapt to 21st century needs.

Today’s civil engineer increasingly needs to combine the leadership spirit of the profession’s pioneering days in the 1800s with today’s technical and social knowledge and know-how. This situation calls on today’s civil engineers to be more broadly educated and capable than in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when a narrower kind of training and practice were the norm.

What are the Six Minds? Learn more here.

Journey to the emotional floor of A Whole New Engineer

Mark Somerville and I are wrapping up production on our book A Whole New Engineer: A Surprising Emotional Journey (see more here), and I was reflecting on large writing projects such as books and how easy it is to underestimate the amount of work required and the amount of learning that goes on in writing one.  The tendency is to think, “This will be easy. I’ll just write down what I know about subject X and it will be good.”  Of course, you start the project, and find that (a) you didn’t know as much as you thought you did, and (b) you had a lot of learning and figuring out to get to the end.  Of course, some of this is the human tendency to underestimate difficulty and overestimate capacity as pointed out in The Invisible Gorilla and related research.  If we were more realistic about the scope of such projects, few would start them.

This time, however, with A Whole New Engineer, the misestimation took on an a different flavor.  Yes, I both underestimated the task complexity and learning required, but this time I also missed the deeper nature of the task.  In the past, what started as largely a textbook or monograph project turned out that way.  This time, I thought Mark and I were writing a how-to manual on engineering education reform with some personal anecdotes, but the deeper nature of the project didn’t reveal itself until we were well into the project.

And the subtitle, A Surprising Emotional Journey, starts to characterize the book we found inside of us.  As we started to tell the stories of what happened at Olin (www.olin.edu) and iFoundry (www.ifoundry.illinois.edu), we started to recognize that the usual rational code words used to describe educational reform (content, curriculum, pedagogy, learning outcomes, active learning, project-based learning, etc., etc.) were inadequate to describe the underlying experience of authentic reform.

Instead, we needed to admit that the secret sauce to both efforts was profoundly emotional in nature and that words like “trust,” “courage,” “joy,” “connection,” and “openness” (the pillars of Chapter 5) were necessary to convey and understand the experience.  And this was excruciatingly hard for a couple of engineers to grok, but once we did, we knew there was no going back.  Those distinctions sounded like were talking about the underlying essence of authentic reform in foundational terms in a way that previous descriptions lacked.

And once we reached the emotional floor of the enterprise, we recognized that many of our colleagues would have the same difficulty we originally had in accepting and understanding this emotional language, that the natural tendency would be to reject these terms as “too soft” or “insufficiently rigorous” and to retreat to easy and safe words like “content,” “pedagogy,” “X learning (where X = active, experiential, project-based, etc.).  Nevertheless, once the journey had come to this place, we knew that our job was to tell the travelogue as we had experienced it, as we had felt it.

And we hope that this is one of the lasting contributions of the book: to shift a discussion that continues to be held in largely rational terms to one that can unapologetically use the language of emotion in ways that contribute to a more effective and holistic educational system.

A Whole New Engineer: A Surprising Emotional Journey will be ready in Fall 2014.  Keep an eye on www.bigbeacon.org/book on twitter @deg511, @threejoy, and @bigbeacon, or write to me at deg@threejoy.com or deg@bigbeacon.org about hosting book-related talks, workshops, and events. 

3 Habits at 3 Levels for Change

Mark Somerville and I have an article out on Huffington Post entitled Three Habits at Three Levels for Improved Engineering Education. The article starts as follows:

Students in advanced economies today want to become anything but engineers (A.B.E.) and often choose to become lawyers, physicians, or businesspeople instead. Even those who do study engineering sometimes leave because (1) they are unable to align their aspirations with the subject matter as taught, and (2) a hostile, dismissive, or indifferent educational culture discourages the young people it is charged with educating.

Changing these things isn’t easy, but to use New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg’s phrase, we can use the power of habit at three different levels — at the personal, organizational, and system levels — to bring about change that attracts and retains bright young people to become the engineers our planet needs.

It goes on to suggest that the three habits are as follows:

  1. Noticing, listening, & questioning (NLQ). Related post here and HuffPo article here.
  2. Dot connecting. Connecting people across an organization to achieve lateral aligment.
  3. Collaborative disruption. Connecting with people outside your organization, even competitors, to build support for a common change.

Read the whole article here, and read four other HuffPo articles here.

HuffPo Piece–Below the Waterline: A Deep Dive to Rethink Engineering Education

There’s a new piece up on Huffington Post here called Below the Waterline: A Deep Dive to Rethink Engineering Education.  This pieces discusses the ways that education concentrates on particular facts and figures and processes (above the waterline), but neglects deeper issues of reflection and learning (below the waterline):

Focusing above the waterline and filling young minds with known facts and knowledge used to be sufficient for engineering education. In the past, engineers were category enhancers, making existing products and technologies faster, better, and more efficient, so mastery of the known used to be enough. Today, however, engineers do so much more. They are no longer category enhancers; they are category creators, bringing to fruition things that don’t yet exist. As such, because we don’t know what future solutions will be needed, we can’t merely pour existing knowledge into students’ heads, hoping that this will be enough; rather, we need to educate deep, lifelong learners so they can adapt, create, innovate, and lead the world to a better future.

Read the whole article here or other articles by Mark Somerville and myself here.

HuffPo Part 2: Steps 6-10 of Ten Steps to a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education

Mark Somerville (Olin College) and my article on Huffington Post on Ten Steps to a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education just was published on Huffington Post (here).  For example, step 10 says the following:

Step 10: Band all stakeholders together coordinate effective action and collaboratively disrupt the status quo.  To date, education reform has largely been a school-by-school or even classroom-by-classroom attempt to bring about local change, and oftentimes schools or departments carefully guard their innovations as giving their unit a competitive advantage.  Unfortunately, the real competitor here is not the university down the road.  The real competitor is an educational system and cultural forces that preserve a 60-year old engineering curriculum that is demoralizing prospective engineers while or even before they come to school.  Even when change efforts aren’t viewed in this competitive way, schools have had difficulty coordinating, diffusing, and sustaining the results throughout their own institutions and to others.

Read the whole article  here, and if you missed part 1, read it here.