Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Closer to Reality

I am pretty sure time has gone when women primarily learned how to replace a fuse and fix home appliances. However, it inspires me to think of another approach to ground engineering education in reality. I am so familiar with the top-down strategy where an instructor endeavor to find examples in real life to justify the value or necessity of the knowledge he just taught. This approach often sounds awkward because the instructor may not always find a perfect epitome. On the contrary, if engineering education starts from the other end - technology is the outcome of engineering - students will be more likely to naturally accept it. The example in Bix's book showed how excited the woman was when she repaired two appliances at home by applying the knowledge from the training. Both this problem based learning (bottom-up) and the top-down approach try to bridge the gap between scientific/engineering knowledge and reality but they start from different ends.

The origin of laboratory discussed in Slaton's book also evokes my reflection on the 'so-called lab' I attended in college. I was also greatly controlled in the lab at that time, but in the sense that instructions were clearly drafted by the instructor and even results were often predictable. The experiments were all out-dated and I never got a chance to operate a machine that would actually appear in the factories. This kind of control is completely different from what Slaton described in the book. As he mentioned, greater control of student work was necessary because lab must prepare students for all possible commercial applications. I was not a bit stimulated because neither the equipments nor methods would be applicable in my professional life. I do not know whether the modern lab setting in the U.S. retains the essence of the lab or also grows towards a wrong direction. As an engineering student, however, I would prefer a more practical experience in the lab session.
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