No Thinking, No Engineer

Ben Oni, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Tuskegee University

The engineer provides solutions to problems. Usually, the engineering problem(s) requiring solution may be unique in the sense that it is probable that such problem(s) may not have been solved previously under identical circumstances, limitations or constraints. Therefore, the engineer, as a minimum, must:
1. Understand the problem
2. Possess the related academic background surrounding the problem
3. Understand the academic tools and techniques with which to tackle the problem
4. Most importantly, critically THINK, analyze and craft a solution
5. Finally, validate that the proffered solution is not only correct, but the best solution of possible solutions

As I reflect back on the instinctive tendencies of engineering students over my years of teaching engineering courses, what has struck me the most has been the increasing tendency of recent generation of students to virtually, addictively depend on formulae for solutions. So much that I could not help but draw attention to this tendency in an academic paper1 'Work-in-progress – Dealing with "Formulaholic" – The formulae syndrome of the new generation engineering students'. The challenge as an educator is to effect a paradigm shift of students from instinctive formula driven to instinctive analytic driven. The approach that I have implemented over time has been to heavily weigh the point distribution in a solution in favor of process and analysis over a final numerical answer. As a matter of disclosure, I inform my students in all exams that a final answer is worth no more than 10% of the points assigned to the problem.

This grading approach has helped only a little in swaying students toward analytic tendencies. The real underpinning drawback to student "formulae" driven tendencies, I believe, is the weak analytical skills that students come to college with. In a determination to promote our students' thinking, analytical and validation skills, our department has changed its pedagogics to one that requires our engineering student to proffer solutions to a given problem from multiple platforms including – theory, laboratory, programming, modeling, and simulation. It is in this regard that Matlab has become a basic software tool to be deployed and utilized across all electrical and computer engineering courses. This is precisely why I signed up for this workshop – to learn of how others are using Matlab to enhance students' engineering computations and analytical skills.

1. Work-in-progress – Dealing with "Formulaholic" – The formulae syndrome of the new generation engineering students, Oni, B., Viswanathan, V., Baah, D., First Year Engineering Experience (FYEE) Conference Session W1A-1, July 31 – August 2, 2016, Columbus, OH

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