Learning about engineering, or learning to be an engineer?

A new dimension of student choice.

Choosing to study at university involves a series of decisions that are collectively life-changing: selecting a discipline; exploring where to study; comparing courses and what specific topics each covers; deciding on a place to relocate or staying closer to home.

Comparing specific universities has, until recently, meant considering factors such as what facilities they offer, what kinds of assessments are used within the course, and the staff who teach on the programme. 

In engineering, the teaching and learning experience is similar across institutions: some combination of lectures, tutorials and time in labs, with much of the assessment through traditional examinations. Differentiators in recent times have been about shiny new buildings, the promise of more time in labs, or being taught by world-leading researchers at the forefront of their discipline. 

With the recent emergence of new higher education providers, like the New Model Institute for Engineering and Technology (NMITE) in Hereford, aspirant engineers have a more fundamental question to consider: what kind of learning experience will best enable me to succeed?

NMITE offers an entirely new approach to engineering undergraduate qualifications. It models and prepares students for the workplace, across a 9-5 working day, filled not with lectures, nor a relatively small amount of lab time, nor many hours in the library working alone. 

At NMITE, there are no lecture theatres or lectures: instead, students learn through short seminars, woven into hands-on practical experience applying their developing knowledge, to find practical utility within it. Scaffolded independent learning develops enquiring approaches and builds intellectual capability in learners.

Academic staff come from traditional academic backgrounds, with expertise in learning and teaching, but also from industry, so that they can bring subject specialism with knowledge of industrial practice. 

Students take one module at a time, often working in teams and absorbing themselves in a topic for four weeks, learning through multi-disciplinary, industry-linked challenge projects, which enable them to meet and learn from and with practising engineers and industry professionals. This approach means that they understand the relevance of their learning and can apply it just as they will need to do after graduation.

At NMITE, assessments do not take the form of traditional exams which tests students’ memories, rather than their ability to apply and integrate their engineering knowledge to solve problems. Instead, learning is measured through students’ ability to produce the outputs of a professional engineer: designs, calculations, models and simulations, reports, presentations and creative media, to name just a few.

This approach is heavily informed by demand from industry for graduates with a broader, integrated skill set, ready to hit the ground running with breaking into and solving problems. It’s all designed to develop work-ready professional engineers.

So, to the question of what kind of learning experience will best enable success, there are two answers. Prospective engineers can now choose traditional, theoretical learning, and build on that in the workplace to develop professional capabilities to apply and utilise that learning in practical situations; or they can learn through practising engineering, solving problems and developing the skills to work in a professional context. They can choose to focus on learning about engineering, or to learn to be an engineer by doing engineering.

Of course, there is value in both approaches and each suits a different kind of student. The point is not that one is inherently better than the other, but that the choice enables more students to get into engineering through a new route. It also offers greater choice to employers, too: graduates who have high levels of theoretical knowledge, but who need support to transition out of the classroom and into the workplace, and to apply their knowledge to engineering problems not neatly packaged within a module of learning; or graduates who are experienced, equipped, and ready to do engineering professionally from day one; a new type of engineering graduate, with the traditional knowledge you would expect, infused with professional skills and a work-readiness like never before.

Like the sound of work-ready graduates? Don’t wait: to deliver industry-linked engineering education, NMITE needs to work with companies like yours, and engineers like you! Get in touch with Professor Gary C Wood via email to discuss how you can support the next generation of engineers, and build your talent pipeline today.

For further information about NMITE, and the pioneering work that they do to train the next generation of engineers, visit their website: nmite.ac.uk

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