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.