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Collaborative Disruption: 3 Reasons to Work with Others to Change Engineering Education

580789_208834845912308_1939846028_nSometimes I’ll be watching TV and a commercial will come on and there will be caption, “Warning: don’t try this at home.” I have been thinking for some time that the changes in engineering education required to align with the times are so far reaching and difficult that engineering education change initiatives should come with the following warning label:

Warning, don’t try this alone!

Of course, this advice flies directly in the face of engineering education culture, a culture that values excellent individual performance by faculty members, strict separation between disciplines and their departments (happy talk about interdisciplinarity not withstanding), and competitive and fiercely independent institutions.

Nonetheless, universities are currently being disrupted (in the sense of Clay Christensen), and colleges of engineering everywhere face a choice. They can work together to disrupt themselves, or competitive entities (for-profit universities, MOOCs, or new, unborn, institutions) will come along and do the job.

There are three main reasons to partner with others and join a larger movement for join to help make the change more effective and less painful:

#1: Change is too different to do by yourself. The new system is very different from the old one, and the old system is an immune system that will fight to protect itself

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against the new. You need allies in the fight to change, but

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you largely won’t them inside your school. Band together with your brothers and sisters elsewhere, who agree with you, not the boo-birds inside who don’t.

#2: Change is too emotionally wrenching to do by yourself. The coming changes require expert professors (those who say “I know”) to balance their portfolio with deep coaching skills and say “I trust.” This shift from expert to coach is wrenching and requires self-reflection and confrontation of fear and other negative emotions. If you work with others who have already made the shift and others who are going through it, the changes will be easier as knowing that you are not alone will be a comfort.

#3: Change has too many pieces to do by yourself. Some of the new stuff required that we know about (emotional intelligence, leadership presence, mindfulness) is quite not anywhere near being a part of the current engineering curriculum, and to invent it all yourself or in your school is too daunting a task. Also, there are still pieces of the new system that need to be worked out. The way out here is to join with your colleagues at other schools in a process of open innovation like that used in Unix or Android operating systems to help develop a new operating system for engineering education.

At Big Beacon, we call disrupting the status quo with your colleagues at other schools, collaborative disruption (see the manifesto here) and a major role of the Big Beacon is to help disparate organizations, schools, vendors, employers, and other educational innovators, come together to bring about a whole new engineer and a whole new engineering education.

Read & share the manifesto. Keep an eye out for the new book, A Whole New Engineer: A Surprising Emotional Journey (coming this summer). Join us on this important journey.



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