Are You in Judger Mode or Learner Mode?

There are many things to like about Marilee Adams book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life (here). Written as a business parable, this book explores the role of asking questions and curiosity in effectiveness at work and in life. Routinely in my coaching and training practice, I use many of her

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particular questions as well as her idea of Q-storming (brainstorming with questions) to help clients become more creative and less stuck.

One of the most useful distinctions in the book is the distinction Adams makes between judging and learning. Oftentimes, someone behaves in a manner we are unaccustomed to or tells us something unfamiliar, and we immediately judge it, oftentimes as something bad. This is entirely natural, as human beings we are “living-breathing assessment machines,” and the making of assessments and judgments is part of our evolutionary apparatus that once protected us from harm on the savanna.

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Below the Waterline: A Deep Dive to Rethink Engineering Education

If we think of engineering education as an iceberg, many educators are focused on the visible part of the iceberg — the part above the waterline. As such, they teach students the known elements of existing science, math, engineering science, etc., thus leading students on a path of “mastery of the known.” While all this knowledge is important and useful, many fail to realize that there’s so much more to education — especially engineering education — than what we can see above the waterline. In fact, if the goal is to educate people for a full life, then we need to broaden our focus and educate in the areas that don’t involve known facts. In other words, we need to look 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.

This need for competent lifelong learning shifts the focal point of education. To instill the joy of being a masterful lifelong learner requires education to dive below the waterline, to stop focusing so heavily on mere mastery of the known so that in the future we develop engineers who can take initiative, find the problems that need to be solved, think both critically and creatively, and come up with solutions that our world demands.

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More Accomplishment, Less Worry: Follow the Epictetus Square

Epictetus was a Greco-Roman moralist who shared practical advice and wisdom with his countrymen.  Once a slave, Epictetus was freed and then went on to influence his followers, who captured his teachings and passed them down to us. One piece of wisdom that comes to us in the Enchiridion (here), is the following:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. 

We can visualize this advice and take it a step further on what I’ve called the Epictetus Square in the poster. On the y-axis, we have activities and whether we control them or not, and on the x-axis we have our internal state of mind and whether we are concerned with the particular activity or not.

In the West, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of accomplishment.  In this quadrant, we can control an outcome, we do, and we achieve something we desire.  A lot of self help is focused here.

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Ten Steps to the Whole New Engineer

Dan Pink called for a Whole New Mind in his book on creativity of the same name (here).  Mark Somerville and I call for a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education in our latest Huffington Post article: We live in a technological time. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet (and counting), we depend upon technology in almost every aspect of our…

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Two Student-Centered Success Stories in Brazil

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Belo Horizonte, Brazil to work with Alessandro Moreira, Vice-Director (Associate Dean) of Engineering at UFMG, Universidade Federale de Minas Gerais. During the visit, I learned of a special group of students and how they helped the University in its engineering education transformation efforts.

On the first day of my visit, Dean Moreira and I were touring campus and we went to the entrepreneurial business incubator, where I was surprised to meet students in Junior Enterprise.  I engaged them in conversation regarding the need for change in engineering education, and they were articulate about the need for better pedagogy, more practical subjects, and hands-on projects.  I also learned how they were backfilling what their educations’ were not providing themselves.

Junior Enterprise was started in 1967 in France, and it has chapters in many countries, but Brazilian universities have taken it especially to heart.  At UFMG, most of the engineering disciplines have a Junior Enterprise chapter or enterprise, and each enterprise organizes to do consulting projects for local businesses.  The students organize in functional specialties (marketing, technical, administrative, etc.), and take pride in teaching each other professional skills such as powerpoint presentation and project management.  Enterprise sizes of 25-50 or so with 5-10 or more projects running at time are not unusual.  Enterprises have faculty advisors, but they are largely hands off, and many of the research faculty would prefer that students concentrate on their studies.

I was unfamiliar with Junior Enterprise before this visit, but it is an exemplary model of students taking action in service to their education in a direct way.  Students in design competition clubs and projects get similar experiences, but the connection to markets and work in Junior Enterprise closes the real-world loop in a very special way, and Junior Enterprise students come out of the experience ready to tackle the world of engineering full force.

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Ten Steps to a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education: Part 2

In the first installment of this article, we discussed the ways in which engineering is increasingly not the career avenue of choice for an array of talented young people who might otherwise make terrific engineers; we suggested how this situation could be reversed by adopting a new vision of the whole new engineer (WNE) and a whole new engineering education (WNEE).  In particular we outlined 5 steps to the WNE and a WNEE as follows:

Step 1: Become aware how engineering and engineering education got stuck.
Step 2: Recognize ways the world has changed.
Step 3: Understand why reform efforts haven’t worked.
Step 4: Use a change approach that combines emotional, conceptual, and organizational factors.
Step 5: Trust students before they trust themselves.

In this second and final installment, we add five more steps that will help frame engineering and engineering education in a way that naturally attracts a wider group of talented young people to the challenge and joy that is engineering.

Step 6: Instill the keystone habits of noticing, listening, and questioning (NLQ).  If we think of education as an iceberg, much of the effort of traditional education is above the waterline.  We teach and master concepts, facts, and figures, essentially mastery of the already mastered.  Education in a world of change is largely about factors below the waterline, the ability to notice, inquire, reflect, and learn.  Explicit experiential training in noticing, listening, and open-ended questioning transforms schools by (1) giving teachers the tools they need to become aware of the perception, needs, and untapped potential of students, and (2) give students the tools they need to become aware of their own stories and purpose, and to guide their own learning in productive directions of their own choosing.  NLQ is not the whole story, but the current system becomes more amenable to the needed changes as more students and faculty members practice NLQ.

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Ten Steps to a Whole New Engineer and a Whole New Engineering Education — Part 1

We live in a technological time. With nearly 7 billion people on the planet (and counting), we depend upon technology in almost every aspect of our lives. Billions are clothed, healed, fed, transported, connected, entertained, and employed through increasingly complex products, processes, and systems. And while technology is in one sense the gift that enables life for billions, its unintended consequences cause environmental and sustainability problems that are increasingly a concern.

As such, engineers and engineering are increasingly necessary to sustain and improve our way of life. Unfortunately, engineering is increasingly not the career path of choice for many who would otherwise make terrific engineers, and even if it were, the kinds of engineers being turned out by colleges and universities around the globe are too narrowly technical to address the complex and integrated nature of the opportunities and challenges of our times.

Big Beacon is a global movement to transform engineering and engineering education, to make engineering an attractive career path to young people and to help educate the kind of engineers that our world needs. The Big Beacon Manifesto calls for (1) a whole new engineer appropriate to our times, (2) a whole new engineering education to educate the engineers we need, and (3) steps of educational rewire or effective educational change or transformation that will bring about the necessary change.

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Engineering Students Can Do X

One of the many blessings in my life has been my ability to travel and help transform engineering education around the world. These experiences have given me some insight into today’s engineering students and have helped me see that no matter where we live, we’re not so different after all.

While cultures vary greatly from place to place, I’ve found that at the individual level engineering students are more similar than dissimilar. My colleagues elsewhere don’t necessarily see it that way, however. Prior to engaging students overseas, I’m often surprised when a colleague pulls me aside and says quietly, as if telling me a secret, “Dave, you need to understand something. You’re not in the United States anymore. You’re in __________ (fill in the blank), and students here don’t do X,” where “X” is the particular thing that these students supposedly don’t do or aren’t capable of doing. For example, I have been told various times and in various locations that engineering students aren’t curious, don’t answer questions, don’t ask questions, can’t talk about emotions, aren’t creative, and so on and so forth across a litany of supposed inadequacies and incapacities.

As an outsider in all these situations I was sensitive to my role, yet a part of me was always curious to observe students for myself to see if they really don’t do X. I have been privileged and blessed to be able to listen to engineering sons and daughters around the world in a way that is quite compelling, and I want to share what I’ve heard from some of the brightest young engineering students in the world. My hope is that by sharing my observations I can help us all seriously think about educational reform and transformation. The remainder of this article tells three stories of what I found to be true of engineering students worldwide.

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