Monday, July 14, 2008

This Week's Non-sports-related Post

So I'm sitting here studying for a Fluid Mechanics test without any real sense of direction. As I try to copy about 150 formulas onto my formula sheet while leaving room for examples and solved homework problems, I begin to wonder "How the hell is this relevant?"

So I came up with an idea for a university that actually gives you a useful engineering education.

First, you don't do individual work. Period. You might be solving problems by yourself, but you get access to any books, notes, friends, and computers you would have access to in the workplace. Tests aren't ever individual, but rather group-based like any engineering project at any engineering firm. If you're an engineer working in Heat Transfer and Fluid Systems Design at GE, you have an internet connection to help you with problems. You're not reduced to cramming as much as you can onto one side of an 8.5x11" piece of paper. Why should your classes require that you remember highly specific information which is easily available in any book or online?

Moreover, any problems you work are relevant, real-world examples. A caption in this book showing a multiple-bend manometer claims "This system is not especially practical but makes a good homework or examination problem." Fine. But that's illogical. Instead of a multiple bend manometer, show a coolant hose in an engine with multiple bends. Relevant, real-world examples are more important than the establishment of theory through dumb systems.

Yes, I understand that the point of an engineering education is to teach you a problem-solving mindset, not necessarily how to solve real-world problems. But how does restricting your problem-solving abilities help? If anything, it turns engineers into problem-solving their way around restrictions in a course. It's a waste.

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