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Twitter Chat: Rigor in Engineering Education


Please join us at 8 pm EST on Wednesday May 29th on twitter, hashtag #BigBeacon for our weekly twitter chat. This week’s topic is Rigor in Engineering Education.

“Look to the left, look to the right. One of you will not be here at the end of this year.”

Thus began the engineering education experience of many of today’s practicing professional engineers. They were warned during their very first days on campus that their courseload would be heavy and the road would be difficult – and it was. Long after the first day, this high stress/high challenge atmosphere continued. A failing grade for 30-40% of the class was not uncommon.

Why does it have to be so hard?

All in the name of ‘rigor’ in engineering education. As Big Beacon founder Dave Goldberg explains in his presentation ‘Engineering Rigor and its Discontents’, the quality of rigor has been held up as a standard of excellence in engineering education. “It’s a rigorous analysis; we hold rigorous standards.” ; these are common boasts and expressions meant to show status. To say something is ‘soft’ or ‘lacking in rigor’ is the ultimate insult in these academics’ circles. Students’ academic experience is often caught in the crossfire. Does it make them tough? Undoubtedly. Does it make for good engineers? And at what cost? We’ll explore that question in this week’s twitter chat.

You’ve got to pay your dues

The theme of rigor also shows up in initiation rituals for new engineering students; the more unpleasant the experience, the greater the status boost, the more deserving they become of belonging to the engineering faculty – or so

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goes the prevailing belief. Standards for orientation week rituals have improved dramatically in recent years, but the culture of being tough (academically or otherwise) on the “new kids” is alive and well.

Beyond rigor, making good engineers

However, mathematical rigor, robust reasoning and tough initiation rituals are not enough to make a good practicing engineer. Indeed, interpersonal skills, creative/ideation skills, comfort with risk and empathy – (to name just a few – see Dr. Goldberg’s TED talk for more) are also critical and cannot be taught nor cultivated through rigor. And what about engineering wisdom – how do current engineering educational norms promote its transfer?

Join us on twitter on Wednesday night!

Please join us at 8 pm EST on Wednesday May 29th on twitter, hashtag #BigBeacon for our weekly twitter chat. Lend your voice to the conversation and become a part of the movement to transform engineering education! This week’s twitter chat will explore some of the following questions:

What is/was your experience of rigor in your engineering education? How did it make you feel? What are some of its benefits? Risks?

Would the value of an engineering education remain if it weren’t so hard? Is your status as an engineer/engineering student important to you?

How do you feel about future generations of engineers going through a less rigorous engineering education than you did/are going through?

How could current initiation rituals be modified to better shape the Whole New Engineer needed for the 21st century’s challenges?

References – Read up ahead of time if you like!

Previous twitter chat where the topic of ‘rigor’ came

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Dave Goldberg’s presentation on Engineering Rigor:

National Academy of Engineering Video on How Hard Engineering is:

The Big Beacon Manifesto:


A Canadian professional engineer with a background in manufacturing and mining, Erica is passionate about creating a better future through Six Sigma, Lean/Kaizen Events, mentorship, coaching, sustainability, educational reform and talking to kids about engineering.

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