Understanding and Improving Undergraduate Engineering Education
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This thesis seeks to understand the past and present state of engineering education and to plot a course for its future evolution. This research is limited to engineering education as it has taken place in North American universities during the last half of the 20th century. Within this context, broad trends are described. The description is supplemented with a case study of a unique and innovative engineering programme. The trends and case study form the foundation of a synthesis, and alternative vision, for higher education and engineering education. The intended audience of this thesis includes those who teach, design curriculum, or administer engineering education programmes. The description of the current state of engineering education contains analyses of the state and of the gaps within it. Both of these analyses are based almost exclusively on publicly available documentation. The present state of engineering is drawn from accreditation criteria. Critiques of the current state and suggestions for future change are drawn from reports commissioned by groups affiliated with professional engineering. The discussions identify recurring themes and patterns. Unlike the analysis of the literature, the case study merges interview evidence and personal experience with the available documentation. The synthesis and visions continue the trend away from formal sources towards experiences and beliefs. Engineering education research is in its infancy and shows few signs of maturing. There is no documented, common framing of engineering education nor have there been any efforts in this regard. Few sources address broad issues and those that do lack theoretical rigour. The visions for engineering education are simple amalgams of visions for the profession and for general higher education. The Department of Systems Design Engineering has enjoyed great past successes because of its unique vision that combines the theories of systems, complexity, and design with the discipline of engineering. Its recent decay can be traced to its faculty having collectively lost this vision. The original vision for Systems Design Engineering holds promise as a means to reinvent and reinvigorate both the engineering profession and engineering education. For this renaissance to be successful a theoretically rigorous research programme assessing the past, present, and future of engineering and engineering education must be developed.