Dr. Jude Bramton of the University of Bristol discusses her first-hand experience of using the Engineering Ethics Toolkit and what lessons she learnt.

 

Starting off

Let me set the scene. It’s a cold January morning after the winter break and I need to prepare some Engineering Ethics content for our third year Mechanical Engineers. The students have never been taught this topic, and I have never taught it.

I’m apprehensive – many of our students are fantastic engineering scientists/mathematicians and I’m not sure how they will engage with a subject that is more discussive and, unlike their more technical subjects, a subject with no single correct answer.

Nonetheless, my task is to design a 50-minute session for ca. 180 undergraduate Mechanical Engineers to introduce the concept of Engineering Ethics and start to build this thinking into their engineering mindset. The session will be in a flatbed teaching space, where students will be sitting in groups they have been working in for a number of weeks.

For a bit more context, the content is assessed eventually as part of a group coursework where students assess the ethical implications of a specific design concept they have come up with.

 

Designing the session with the help of the Toolkit

From doing a little bit of research online, I came across the Engineering Ethics Toolkit from the EPC – and I was so grateful.

I started off by reviewing all 8 case studies available at the time, and reading them in the context of my session. I picked one that I felt was most appropriate for the level and the subject matter and chose the Solar Panels in a Desert Oil Field case study.

I used the case study in a way that worked for me – that’s the beauty of this resource, you can make it what you want.

I put my session together using the case study as the basis, and including the Engineering Council’s principles of Engineering Ethics and some hand-picked tools from some of Toolkit’s guidance articles – for example, I used the 7-step guide to ethical decision making.

I used the text directly from the case study to make my slides. I introduced the scenario in parts, as recommended, and took questions/thoughts verbally from the students as we went. The students then had access to all of the scenario text on paper, and had 15-20 minutes to agree three decisions on the ethical dilemmas presented in the scenario. Students then had to post their group’s answers on PollEverywhere.

The overall session structure looked like this:

 

How did it go?

When I ran the session, one key component was ensuring I set my expectations for student participation and tolerance at the start of the session. I openly told students that, if they feel comfortable, they will need to be vocal and participative in the session to get the most from it. I literally asked them – “Is that something we think we can do?” – I got nods around the room (so far, so good).

Overall, the session went better than I could have expected. In fact, I think it was the most hands up I have ever had during a class. Not only did we hear from students who hadn’t openly contributed to class discussion before, but I had to actively stop taking points to keep to time. It made me wonder whether this topic, being presented as one with no wrong or right answers, enabled more students to feel comfortable contributing to a large class discussion. Students were very tolerant of each others’ ideas, and we encouraged differences of opinion.

For the small group discussions, I left a slide up with the three ethical dilemmas and the 7-step guide to ethical decision making as a prompt for those that needed it. During the small group discussions, I and supporting teaching staff wandered around the room observing, listening and helping to facilitate discussion, although this was rarely needed as engagement was fantastic. The small group sessions also allowed opportunities for contribution from those students who perhaps felt less comfortable raising points in the wider class discussion.

To my delight, the room was split on many decisions, allowing us to discuss all aspects of the dilemmas when we came to summarise as a larger class. I even observed one group being so split they were playing rock-paper-scissors to make their decision – not quite the ethical decision making tool we might advertise, but representative of the dilemma and engagement of students nonetheless!

 

Student feedback

I asked our Student Cohort Representative to gather some informal feedback from students who attended the session. Overall, the response was overwhelmingly positive, here are a few snippets:

“It was the best lecture I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

“The most interesting session, had me engaged.”

“It was the first time learning about the connections between engineering and ethics and it was really useful.”

“I enjoyed the participation and inclusion with the students during the lesson. It has favoured the growth of personal opinions and a greater clarity of the subject and its points of view.  Furthermore, the addition of real-life examples gave more depth to the topic, facilitating listening and learning.”

“The session was very engaging and I liked the use of examples… This whole unit has showed me how there are more aspects of engineering to consider apart from just designing something. Engineers must always think of ethics and I believe this session has demonstrated that well.”

And finally, when asked “What was your overall impression of the session?” a student replied Interesting and curious.” – what more could you ask for?

It was such a pleasant surprise to me that not only did students engage in the session, but they actively enjoyed the topic.

 

I’ve run it once, how would I improve it?

One thing I would do differently next time would be to allow even more time for discussion if at all possible. As discussed, I had to stop and move on, despite the engagement in the room at certain points.

I also reflect how it might have gone if the students weren’t as engaged at the start. If you have other teaching staff in the room, you can use them to demonstrate that it’s ok to have differences of opinion. A colleague and I openly disagreed with each other on a topic, and demonstrated that this was ok. Additionally, if larger class engagement doesn’t work for you, you could also go straight to the small group discussion.

 

In summary (and top tips!)

I now feel very comfortable, and excited, to be teaching engineering ethics. It has now also catalysed more content to be created to embed this theme further in our programme – so it doesn’t just become that “one off” lecture. However, I think providing specific time on this subject was very beneficial for the students, it gave them time and space to reflect on such a complex topic.

My takeaways and recommendations from this experience have been:

All in all, I would recommend the resources on the Engineering Ethics Toolkit to anyone. They can be easily adapted to your own contexts and there is a plethora of resources and knowledge that are proven to engage students and get them thinking ethically.

You can find out more about getting involved or contributing to the Engineering Ethics Toolkit here.

 

This blog is also available here.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Matthew Studley (UWE Bristol); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University). 

Keywords: Pedagogy; Personal ethics; Risk. 

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate ethics into the engineering and design curriculum, or into module design and learning activities. It describes techniques that can help to provide students with opportunities to practise the communication and critical thinking skills that employers are looking for. 

 

Premise: 

Discussing ethical issues can be a daunting prospect, whether one-to-one or with an entire classroom. Ethics often addresses topics and decisions related to moral choices and delicate situations about which people may have firm and long-held beliefs. Additionally, these issues are often rooted in underlying values which may differ between people, cultures, or even time periods. For instance, something that was considered immoral or unethical in a rural community in 18th-century Ireland may have been viewed very differently at the same time in urban India. Because students come from different backgrounds and experiences, it is essential to be sensitive to this context (Kirk and Flammia, 2016). However, ethics also requires that we address tough topics in order to make decisions about what we should do in difficult situations, such as those encountered by engineers in their personal, professional, and civic lives. 

 

Why we need to be sensitive in discussions about ethics: 

Discussions about tough topics can be ‘triggering’. Psychologists define a psychological ‘trigger’ as a stimulus that causes a painful memory to resurface. A trigger can be any reminder of the traumatic event: a sound, sight, smell, physical sensation, words, or images. When a person is triggered, they’re being provoked by a stimulus that awakens or worsens the symptoms of a traumatic event or mental health condition (Gerdes, 2019). A person’s strong reaction to being triggered may come as a surprise to others because the response seems out of proportion to the stimulus, because the triggered individual is mentally reliving the original trauma. Some neurodivergencies can adapt these responses. For example, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience stronger emotional reactions and may present this in ways which are unfamiliar or surprising to those who have not experienced the same challenges (Fuld, 2018). 

Apart from triggering memories, the topics of right and wrong may be emotive. Young people are often passionate in their beliefs and may be moved to strong responses. There is nothing wrong with that, unless one person’s strong response makes another’s participation and expression less likely.  

 

Ethics is only salient if the topics are tough: 

Ethics concerns questions of moral value, of right and wrong, and relates to our deep-held beliefs and emotions. If any experience in an engineer’s education is likely to cause unpleasant memories to surface, or to stimulate strong discussion, it’s likely to be Ethics, and some of our students may have an emotional response to the topics of discussion and their impacts. This might be enough to make many educators shy away from integrating ethics. 

However, research has shown that most engineers are moved by their personal sense of moral value, rather than by abstract external standards, and this can create very powerful and impactful learning experiences (Génova and González, 2016). To teach Ethics, we need to be willing to engage emotionally. Students also appreciate when educators can be vulnerable in the same way that we ask them to be, which means being willing to be honest about our own reactions to tough topics. 

 

Approaches to tackling tough topics:  

a. Prepare by reviewing resources 

Several resources exist to guide educators who are engaging with tough topics in the classroom. Teaching and learning specialists recognise the challenges inherent in engaging with this kind of activity, yet also want to support educators who see the value in creating a space for students to wrestle with the difficult questions that they will encounter in the future. Many centres of teaching and learning at universities provide strategies and guidance through websites or pamphlets that are easily found by searching online. We include a list of some of our preferred resources below. 

b. Prepare by finding local support 

Even though we will avoid obvious triggers, there’s always the possibility that our students may become upset. We should be prepared by promoting the contact details for local support services within the institution. It can never be a bad thing for our students to know about these. 

 c. Give warnings and ask for consent 

You might want to warn your students that discussing ethical matters is not without emotional consequence. At your discretion, seek their explicit consent to continue. There has been some criticism of this approach in the media, as some authors suggest that this infantilises the audience. Indeed, the pros and cons of trigger warnings might make an interesting topic for discussion: life can be cruel, is there value in developing a thick skin? What do we lose in this process? Being honest about your own hesitations and internal conflicts might encourage students to open up about how they wrestle with their own dilemmas. To be fully supportive, consider an advanced warning with the option to opt-out so that people aren’t stampeded into something they might prefer to avoid. 

 d. Recognise discomfort, and respond 

Be aware of the possibility that individuals in your group could become upset. Be prepared to quietly offer time out or to change the activity in response to where the students want to take the discussion. Again, being transparent with the students that some people may be uncomfortable or upset by topics can reveal another relevant ethical topic – how to be respectful of others whose response differs from your own. And being willing to change the activity demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability required of 21st century engineers!  

 e. Avoid unnecessary risk 

Some topics are best avoided due to the strength of emotion which they might trigger in students whose life story may be unknown to us. These topics include sexual abuse, self-harm, violence, eating disorders, homophobia, transphobia, racism, child abuse and paedophilia, and rape.  

 

Be kind, and be brave: 

Above all, let your students know that you care for their well-being. If we are to teach Ethics, let us be ethical. You might need to overcome some awkward moments with your students, but you will all learn and grow in the process! 

 

References: 

Fuld S. (2018) ‘Autism spectrum disorder: The Impact of stressful and traumatic life events and implications for clinical practice.’ Clinical Social Work Journal 46(3), pp. 210-219.  

Génova, G., and González, M.R. (2016) ‘Teaching ethics to engineers: A Socratic experience,’ Science and Engineering Ethics 22, pp. 567–580.  

Gerdes, K. (2019) ‘Trauma, trigger warnings, and the rhetoric of sensitivity,’ Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 49(1), pp. 3-24. 

Kirk S. A. and Flammia, M. (2016) ‘Teaching the ethics of intercultural communication,’ in Teaching and Training for Global Engineering: Perspectives on Culture and Professional Communication Practices, pp.91-124. 

 

Additional resources: 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Knowledge exchange, Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Deanne Taenzer (ExpertFile) and Kendra Gerlach, MBA, APR (Virginia Commonwealth University)

Keywords: Industry, Academic Expertise, Collaboration, Knowledge Exchange, Commercial Engagement, Content, Search, Discovery, Innovation, Invention

Abstract: The theme of the session is about how industry currently searches for academic expertise for applied research and other interventions. A speaker from the school of engineering and one from their partnership platform will talk about the importance of online searches and having effective academic profiles for web searches, discovery and engagement. The speakers will be: Kendra Gerlach (Director of Marketing and Communications at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Engineering) and Justin Shaw (UK Development Director for ExpertFile). The university will identify specific industry engagements through their outreach via their own strategic focus and using the content development, structured data for discovery and broad reach distribution channels provided as part of their partnership with ExpertFile.

 

The following case study addresses, when it comes to knowledge exchange, that there is a fundamental issue in the abilities of industry to identify and source relevant academic experts and applied research centres in the first place.

The aim of the strategy covered in this case study is to determine if improved discovery via online channels and making use of relevant content has more positive outcomes for industry access and engagement with academia. We will discuss how industry searches for academic expertise for applied research, consulting and other interventions– and how the efforts of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) College of Engineering improved the attraction, interest and engagement from industry and beyond.

VCU College of Engineering needs a strategy for academic expertise discovery

As a young and growing institution, VCU College of Engineering was aware that its faculty had much to offer for knowledge exchange but were almost impossible to find by potential external partners. Before adopting a strategy and partnering with the global online expert platform, ExpertFile, the College had no solution for an online academic directory that offered more than just contact and basic biographical details. A few academics already had websites for their own labs, some had up-to-date information, some included curriculum vitae. The presentation was variable and unattuned to external perspectives. Many weren’t even cited on the College’s website domain, and most were invisible to an online search.

The College recognised that there was a need to make their academics more easily findable with professional-looking content that would surface on top search engines, while also having the expertise promoted beyond the College’s website itself.

The old strategy failed to deliver

Before the College implemented a strategy focused on improved discovery and on delivering relevant and engaging content, it used traditional and digital marketing tactics that didn’t have really an anchor of information for the academic experts. Faculty relied on their own personal connections to industry and other researchers. As the College grew, it became evident that to form research partnerships and pursue large grants, faculty must be more easily found and their expertise easily accessed for academics and non-academics alike.

Putting the strategy into action

When the College pursued the strategy to increase expert visibility, many senior academics were resistant and did not want to change – as they did not fully understand the value to them and their work. The College proceeded with the adoption of professional online profiling knowing that if the strategy did not succeed, at the very least they would have current strengthened content for their showcasing academics online.

The College chose a technology platform to mobilise their strategy and modernise their market visibility – to be competitive in the engineering space. They chose to work with ExpertFile as it supported their own web presence and offered updated multimedia content formats such as videos, images and books. Beyond technology, ExpertFile’s content distribution channels (with partner promotional channels and expert-seekers) also increased content visibility beyond their own website.

With the resistance of faculty a concern, and the need for faculty to provide content for the profiles, the team adopted an initial message related to the student recruitment priority in order to get them on board (academics understood the need to be seen by potential students).

Faculty members were given their own dedicated page on the egr.vcu.edu domain. This was essential to success. Each profile has a unique, personalised url on the website so that search engines can easily find them, resulting in higher search ranking. With 93% of online sessions starting with a search engine[1], 91% of pages getting no organic search traffic from Google [2] and 75% of internet users never scroll past the first page [3] this was critical for ‘discovery’.

The unique urls also facilitated the Marketing and Communications Department to employ cross-linking, a key part to the success of the strategy. The marketing team promotes links to profiles in all content related to an academic. Every news story, award or newsletter mention includes a link. Social media uses links to drive viewers back to the website and the profile. The team have also encouraged the parent University to include links to faculty profiles whenever that person is mentioned.

VCU Engineering created a directory of profiles for the entire College members plus subdirectories for each sub-uni and department for ease of discovery. For example, a searchable subdirectory of only Computer Science faculty or Mechanical Engineering faculty which routes to that department’s homepage.

Profiles aren’t limited to biographical information and publications; they include areas of expertise, industry experience, research patents, videos, books, media and event appearances – all valued by industry and others. This content is as important as the initial discovery as it offers searchers a greater understanding of the academic expertise and its value to them.

Engaging industry benefits reputation
Industry partnerships and opportunities are an important focus of the College and academics knew that improved discovery would have widespread benefits; improving the reputation of the College and its faculty and attracting other groups – prospective graduate students, foundations, academic colleagues, associations and media.

Faculty members with strong reputations in their fields often advance in their own academic associations. For instance, one of the College’s Computer Science experts has been named president-elect of a global organisation. A nuclear engineering professor is now Director General of the World Nuclear Association. Without discovery, academics and colleges rely on their limited connections and miss these larger opportunities.

News media seeking experts struggle to find credible sources. A VCU associate professor that specialises in aerosols is now regularly featured in media and on television because he is now easily findable as an expert in this field. Media coverage has a direct lead generation impact for industry engagement and secures trust in the credibility of the source.

Many of the College’s academics have now established industry partnerships, and the marketing team knows that these efforts have contributed to those successes. From the formation of pharmaceutical clusters locally to the fastest licensing agreement done by the University, the commitment of this strategy to support those successes has paid off.

Measuring impact and results

The College uses tools like Google Analytics Studio to measure results and track progress. Since it has employed trackable pages and cross-links to the content, it has been able to record the steady progress of these efforts. Faculty have benefited from much-elevated search rankings including top-ranked faculty profiles which are viewed between 2,000 and 3,000 times a year, with more than 2,000 different visitors viewing each profile. In a given year, the College now tracks over 90,000 unique visitors that have viewed their academic profiles.

 

 

More than 70% of the views come from organic search, which means when a faculty member’s name is searched, their profile pages are among the top results, and in some cases are the number one search result.

The strategy continues to add value

Kendra Gerlach, Director of Marketing and Communications at VCU College of Engineering, and co-author of this case study reflected:

”Researchers often assess their involvement and benefit from supporting  ventures on a three year cycle. If the second year is better than the first, and if the College is seeing success, they continue a third year.“

Kendra is happy to report that the College is now in year five of using ExpertFile and this expert profiling and searchability strategy.

Key Takeaways:

 

Access summary presentation slides of this case study as a pdf document here.

 

Endnotes

[1] imForza, 2013, Vinny La Barbera – 8 SEO stats that are hard to ignore 

[2] Ahrefs, 2020, Tim Soulo – Search traffic study

[3] Marketshare.hitslink.com, October 2010

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Dr Gareth Thomson (Aston University, Birmingham), Dr Jakub Sacharkzuk (Aston University, Birmingham) and Paul Gretton (Aston University, Birmingham)

Keywords: Industry, Engineering Education, Authenticity, Collaboration, Knowledge exchange, Graduate employability and recruitment.

Abstract: This paper describes the work done within the Mechanical, Biomedical and Design Engineering group at Aston University to develop an Industry Club with the aim to enhance and strategically organise industry involvement in the taught programmes within the department. A subscription based model has been developed to allow the hiring of a part-time associate to manage the relationship with industry, academic and student partners and explore ways to develop provision. This paper describes the approach and some of the activities and outcomes achieved by the initiative.

 

Introduction

Industry is a key stakeholder in the education of engineers and the involvement of commercial engineering in taught programmes is seen as important within degrees but may not always be particularly optimised or strategically implemented.

Nonetheless, awareness of industry trends and professional practice is seen as vital to add currency and authenticity to the learning experience [1,2]. This industry involvement can take various forms including direct involvement with students in the classroom or in a more advisory role such as industrial advisory or steering boards [3] designed to support the teaching team in their development of the curriculum.

Direct input into the curriculum from industry normally involves engagement in dissertations, final year ‘capstone’ project exercises [4], visits [5], guest lectures [6,7], internships [8,9] or design projects [10,11]. These are very commonly linked to design type modules [12,13] or projects where the applied nature of the subject makes industrial engagement easier and are more commonly centred toward later years when students are perceived to have accrued the underpinning skills and intellectual maturity needed to cope with the challenges posed.

These approaches can however be ad hoc and piecemeal. Industry contacts used to directly support teaching are often tied into specific personal relationships through previous research or consultancy or through roles such as the staff involved also being careers or placement tutors. This means that there is often a lack of strategic thinking or sharing of contacts to give a joined up approach – an academic with research in fluid dynamics may not have an easy way to access industrial support or guidance if allocated a manufacturing based module to teach.

This lack of integration often gives rise to fractured and unconnected industrial involvement (Figure 1) with lack of overall visibility of the extent of industrial involvement in a group and lack of clarity on where gaps exist or opportunities present themselves.

 

Figure 1 : Industry involvement in degrees is often not as joined up as might be hoped.

 

As part of professional body accreditation it is also generally expected that Industrial Advisory Boards are set-up and meet regularly to help steer curriculum planning. Day to day pressures however often mean that these do not necessarily operate as effectively as they could and changes or suggestions proposed by these can be slow to implement.

Industry Club

To try to consolidate and develop engagement with industry a number of institutions have developed Industry Clubs [14,15] as a way of structuring and strategically developing industrial engagement in industry.

For companies, such a scheme offers a low risk, low cost involvement with the University, access to students to undertake projects and can also help to raise awareness in the students minds of companies and sectors which may not have the profile of the wider jobs market beyond the big players in the automotive, aerospace or energy sectors. At Aston University industry clubs have been running for several years in Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Computer Science.

The focus in this report is the setting up and development of the industry club in the Mechanical, Biomedical and Design Engineering (MBDE) department.

Recruitment of companies was via consolidation of existing contacts from within the MBDE department and engagement with the wider range of potential partners through the University’s ‘Research and Knowledge Exchange’ unit.

The industry focus within the club has been on securing SME partners. This is a sector which has been found to be very responsive. Feedback from these partners has indicated that often getting access to University is seen as ‘not for them’ but when an easy route in is offered, it becomes a viable proposition. By definition SMEs do not have the visibility of multi-nationals and so they can struggle to attract good graduates so the ability to raise brand awareness is seen as positive. From the perspective of academics, the very flat and localised management structure also makes for a responsive partner able to make decisions relatively quickly. Longer term this opens up options to explore more expansive relationships such as KTPs or other research projects and also sets up a network of different but compatible companies able to share knowledge among themselves.

Within MBDE the industry club initially focussed on placing industrially linked projects for final year dissertation students. This was considered relatively ‘low hanging fruit’ with a simple proposition for companies, academics and students.

While this proposal is straightforward it is not entirely without difficulty with matching of academics to projects, expectation management and practical logistics of diary mapping between partners all needing attention.

To support this, an Industry Club Associate was recruited to help manage the initiative, funding for this being drawn from industry partner subscriptions and underwritten by the department.

This has allowed the Industry Club to move beyond its initial basis of final year projects to have a much wider remit to oversee much of the involvement of industry in both the teaching programmes directly and in their advising and steering of the curriculum.

Figure 2 shows schematically the role and activities of the industry club within the group.

Impact Beyond Projects

The use of the Industry Club to co-ordinate and bolster other industry activity within the department has gone beyond final year projects. These can be seen in Figure 2.

The Industrial Advisory Board has now become linked to the Industry Club and so with partners now involved in the wider activities of the club involvement is now not exclusively limited to twice yearly meeting but is an active ongoing partnership using the projects, other learning and teaching activity and a LinkedIn group to create a more dynamic and responsive consultation body. A subset of the IAB is now also made up entirely of recent alumni to act as a bridge between the students and practising industry to help spot immediate gaps and opportunities to support students in this important transition.

 

Figure 2 : Industry Club set-up and Activity

 

The club has also developed a range of other industrially linked activities in support of teaching and learning.

While industrial involvement is relatively easy to embed in project or design type modules this is not so easy in traditional underpinning engineering science type activity.

To address the lack of industrial content in traditional engineering science modules a pilot interactive online case studies be developed to help show how fundamental engineering science can be applied in authentic industrial problems. A small team consisting of an academic, the industry club associate and an industrialist was assembled.

This team developed an online pump selection tool which combined interactive masterclasses and activities, introduced and explained by the industrialist to show how the classic classroom theory could be used and adapted in real world scenarios (Figure 3). This has been well-received by students, added authenticity to the curriculum and raised awareness in student minds of the perhaps unfashionable but important and rewarding water services sector.

 

Figure 3 : Online Interactive Activity developed as part of industry club activity

Further interactions developed by the Industry Club, and part of its remit to embed industrial links at all stages of the degree, include the involvement of an Industrial Partner on a major wind turbine design, build and test project engaged in as group exercises by all students in year one. Here the industrialist, a wind energy professional, contextualises work while his role is augmented by a recent alumni member of the Industrial board who is currently working as a graduate engineer on offshore wind and who completed the same module as the students four years or so previously.

Conclusion

While the development of the Industry Club and its associated activity can not be considered a panacea, it has significantly developed the level of industry involvement within programmes. More crucially it moves away from an opaque and piecemeal approach to industry engagement and offers a more transparent framework and structure on which to hang industry involvement to support academics and industry in developing and maximising the competencies of graduates.

References

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Ian Hobson (Senior Lecturer and Academic Mentor for Engineering Leadership Management at Swansea University and former Manufacturing Director at Tata Steel) and Dr Vasilios Samaras (Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Engineering Leadership Management at Swansea University)

Keywords: Academia, Industry

Abstract: Throughout the MSc Engineering Leadership Management program, the students at Swansea University develop theoretical knowledge and capability around leadership in organisations. Working alongside our industry partner Tata Steel, they deploy this knowledge to help understand and provide potential solutions to specific organisational issues that are current and of strategic importance to the business. The output of this work is presented to the Tata Steel board of directors along with a detailed report.

 

Aims of the program

In today’s world, our responsibility as academics is to ensure that we provide an enabling learning environment for our students and deliver a first-class education to them. This has been our mantra for many years. But what about our responsibility to the employing organisations? It’s all well and good providing well educated graduates but if they are not aligned to the requirements of those organisations then we are missing the point. This may be an extreme scenario, but there is a real danger that as academics we can lose touch with the needs of those organisations and as time moves on the gap between what they want and what we deliver widens.

In today’s world this relationship with the employment market and understanding the requirement of it is essential. We need to be agile in our approach to meet those requirements and deliver quality employees to the market.

How did we set this collaborative approach?

In reality the only way to do this is by adopting a collaborative approach to our program designs. Our aim with the MSc Engineering Leadership Management (ELM) at Swansea University is to ensure that we collaborate fully with the employment market by integrating industry professionals into our program design and delivery processes. In this way we learn to understand the challenges that organisations face and how they need strength in the organisation to meet those challenges. This of course not an easy task to accomplish.

In our experience professionals within organisations are often overrun with workload and trying to manage the challenges that they face. A university knocking the door with an offer of collaboration is not always top of their priority list, so how do we make this happen? You need to have a balance of academics and experienced industry leaders working within the program who understand the pressures that business faces. They also often have networks within the external market who are willing to support such programs as the ELM. The power of collaboration is often overlooked. It’s often a piece of research, dealing with a specific technical issue, it is rarely a continuum of organisational alignment. If the collaboration is designed for the long-term benefit of improving employability, then organisations will see this as a way to help solve the increasing challenge of finding “good” employees in a market that is tightening. So overall this becomes a win-win situation.

How was the need for the program identified?

Our program was developed following feedback to the university from the market that graduates were joining organisations with good academic qualifications but lacked an understanding of how organisations work. More importantly how to integrate into the organisation and develop their competencies. This did come with time and support, but the graduates fell behind the expected development curve and needed significant support to meet their aspirations.

Swansea University developed the ELM to provide education on organisations and how they work and develop the skills that are required to operate in them as an employee. These tend to be the softer skills, but also developing the student’s competence in using them. Examples include working as teams and providing honest feedback via 1-1s and 360s and team reviews.

In our experience the ability to challenge in a constructive way is a competency that the students don’t possess. All our work is anchored in theory which provides reference for the content. The assignments that we set involve our industry partners and provide potential solutions to real issues that organisations face.  The outcome of their projects is presented to senior management within the host organisation. This is often the high point of the year for the students. This way the students get exposure to the organisations which extends their comfort zones preparing them for the future challenges.

What are the program outcomes?

September 2022 will be our fifth year. The program is accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Our numbers have increased year on year, and we are running cohorts of up to 20 students. It’s a mix of UK and international students. The program requires collaboration between the university faculties which has brought significant benefits and provided many learning opportunities. The collaboration between the engineering and business schools has made us realise that working together we provide a rounded program that is broad in content, but also deep in areas that are identified as specific learning objectives.

The feedback from the University is that students on the ELM program perform well and they have a more mature approach to learning and have confidence in themselves and are proactive in lectures. From our industry partners they feed back that the ELM students are ahead of the curve and are promoted into positions ahead of their peers.

What have we learned from the program?

As lecturers, over the years it has become very clear that the content that we deliver must change year on year. We cannot deliver the same content as it quickly becomes out of date. The theory changes very little, but the application changes significantly, in line with the general market challenges. It is almost impossible to predict and if we sit back and look at the past 4 years this pattern is clear. We also need to refresh our knowledge and we have as much to learn from our students as they do from us. We treat them as equals and have a very good learning relationships and have open and honest debates. We always build feedback into our programs and discus how we can improve the content and delivery of the program. Without exception feedback from a year’s cohort will modify the program for the following year.

Looking ahead

We are being approached by organisations interested in the University delivering a similar program to their future leaders on a part time basis which is something we are considering. We do however recognise that this program is successful because of the experience and knowledge of the lecturers and the ability to work with small cohorts which enables a tailored approach to the program content.

We believe that collaboration with the market keeps the ELM aligned with its requirements. Equally as importantly is the collaboration with our students. They are the leaders of the future and if the market loses sight of the expectations of these future leaders, then they will fail.

The ELM not only aligns its programs with the market, it keeps the market aligned with future leaders.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning, Knowledge exchange, Research, Graduate employability and recruitment

Authors: Steve Jones (Siemens), Associate Prof David Hughes (Teesside University), Prof Ion Sucala (University of Exeter), Dr Aris Alexoulis (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Dr Martino Luis (University of Exeter)

Keywords: Digitalisation, Partnership, Collaboration, Network

Abstract: Siemens have worked together with university academics from 10 institutions to develop and implement holistic digitalisation training and resources titled the “Connected Curriculum”. The collaboration has proved hugely successful for teaching, research and knowledge transfer. This model and collaboration is an excellent example of industry informed curriculum development and the translational benefits this can bring for all partners.

 

Collaboration between academic institutions and industry is a core tenet of all Engineering degrees; however its practical realisation is often complex. Academic institutions employ a range of strategies to improve and embed their relationships with industry. These approaches are often institution specific and do not translate well across disciplines. This leaves industries with multiple academic partnerships, all operating differently and a constant task of managing expectations on both sides. The difference about Siemens Connected Curriculum is that it is an industry-led engagement which directly seeks to address and resource these challenges.

In 2019 Siemens developed the “Connected Curriculum”, a suite of resources (see fig1) to support and enable academic delivery around the topic of ‘Industry 4’. A novel multi-partner network was formed between Siemens, Festo Didactic and universities to develop and deliver the curriculum using real industrial hardware and software. Siemens is uniquely positioned to support on Industry 4 because it is one of the few companies that has a product portfolio that spans the relevant industrial hardware and software. As a result, Siemens is more able to bring together the cyber-physical solutions that sit at the heart of Industry 4.

 

 

 

Figure 1 – Core resources of Siemens Connected Curriculum

Connected Curriculum Aims

The scheme set out with a number of designed aims for the benefit of both Siemens and the partner universities.

Connected Curriculum Implementation

In 2019, four universities agreed with Siemens to create a pilot programme with a common vision for where Siemens could add value, how the university partners could collaborate, and how the network could scale. The initial pilot programme included Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), The University of Sheffield (UoS), Middlesex University (Mdx), and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU). Since the success of its pilot programme, as of Jan 2022 Connected Curriculum now has ten UK university partners with the addition of Teesside University, Coventry University, Exeter University, Salford University, Sheffield Hallam University and The University West of England. The consortium continues to grow and is now expanding internationally. The university academics and the Connected Curriculum team at Siemens have worked together to develop holistic digitalisation training and resources.

Siemens developed a specific team to resource Connected Curriculum, which now includes a full-time Connected Curriculum lead and two Engineering support staff. In addition to the direct team, the initiative also relies on input from a range of experts across the multiple Siemens business units.

The collaboration between multiple institutions and Siemens has proved hugely successful for teaching, research and knowledge transfer. We feel this model and collaboration is an excellent example of industry informed curriculum development and the translational benefits this can bring for all partners. Evidential outcomes of these benefits are demonstrated through the following examples.

Multi-disciplinary delivery

In 2020 Teesside University’s School of Computing, Engineering and Digital Technologies completed a module review including the embedding of digitalisation, resourced through Connected Curriculum, across its Engineering degrees. A discipline specific, scaffolded approach was developed, enabling students to build on previous learning. This includes starting at a component level and building towards fully integrated cyber-physical systems and plants. Connected Curriculum resources are used to inform and resource new modules including Robotics Design and Control and Process Automation. Due to the inherent need for multi-disciplinary working on digitalisation projects many of these have been structured as shared modules. As Siemens work across such a broad range of industries we are able to embed case studies and tasks which are relevant and foster collaborative working. The need for these digital skills and collaborative approaches has been highlighted by a number of studies including the joint 2021 IMechE/IET survey report: The future manufacturing engineer – ready to embrace major change?

Impact on Industry

In May 2021, Exeter’s Engineering Management group and a manufacturer of electric motors, generators, power electronics, and control systems (located in Devon, UK) collaborated to create digital twins for the assembly line of the Internal Permanent Magnet Motor.  With the support from Siemens, we implemented Siemens Tecnomatix Plant Simulation to develop the models. The aim was to optimise assembly line performance of producing the Internal Permanent Magnet Motor such as cycle time, resource utilisation, idle time, throughput and efficiency. What-if scenarios (e.g. machine failure, various material handling modes, absenteeism, bottlenecks, demand uncertainty and re-layout workstations) were performed to build resilient, productive and sustainable assembly lines. Two MSc students were closely involved in this collaborative project to carry out the modelling and the experiments.  Our learners have experienced hands-on engineering practice and action-oriented learning to implement Siemens plant simulation in industry.

Industrially resourced project-based learning

In 2020 Siemens was involved in the Ventilator Challenge UK (VCUK) consortium that was formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. VCUK was tasked with ramping up production of ventilators from 10/week to 1500/week to produce a total of 13500 in just 12 weeks. Inspired by this very successful project, academics at MMU approached the Connected Curriculum team asking if the project could be replicated with a multidisciplinary group of 2nd year Engineering students. MMU Academics and Engineers from Siemens codeveloped a project pack using an open-source ventilator design from Medtronic. The students were tasked with designing a manufacturing process that would produce 10000 ventilators in 12 weeks. The students had 6 weeks to learn how to use the industry standard tools required for plant simulation (Siemens Tecnomatix) and to carry out the project successfully. The project attracted media attention and was featured in articles 1 and 2.

Keys to Success

So, what made the Connected Curriculum so successful? Digitalisation is clearly a current trend and so timing has played an important role. One of the most significant reasons is that Siemens not only led the scheme but resourced it. This has been key to supporting the rapidly growing need for relevant academic expertise. The on-going support from Siemens is also key for issue resolution and to support implementation for universities in adopting new curriculum. Engaging academic partners early in the process was key to ensuring the content was relevant and appropriately pitched.

Siemens breadth and depth of technological expertise across numerous technologies has been a key factor in the success of this initiative. Combined with its global engineering community, this has facilitated a rich integrated curriculum approach which covers a range of aligned technologies. Drawing on internal experts across its global community has allowed the initiative to benefit from a wealth of existing knowledge and resources. Having reached critical mass the initiative is now financially self-sustaining. Without reaching this milestone continued engagement would have been impossible.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Universities’ and business’ shared role in regional development; Knowledge exchange.

Authors: Prof Tony Dodd (Staffordshire University); Marek Hornak (Staffordshire University) and Rachel Wood (Staffordshire University).

Keywords: Regional Development Funding, Innovation Enterprise Zone

Abstract: The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire region registers low in measures of economic prosperity, research and development expenditure, productivity, and higher skills. Staffordshire University has received funding to support regional growth in materials, manufacturing, digital and intelligent mobility and to develop higher skills. Packaged together into the Innovation Enterprise Zone these projects have made positive impacts in the region. This presentation will provide an overview of our approach to regional support and highlight impact and lessons learnt for companies, academics, and students.

 

Background

The Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire economy underperforms compared to the wider West Midlands and England [1].

Industry is dominated by SMEs with strengths in manufacturing, advanced materials, automotive, logistics and warehousing, agriculture, and digital industries [1].

Aims and Objectives

The aim was to develop an ecosystem for driving innovation, economic growth, job creation and higher skills in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

The objectives were to:

Enterprise Zone and Projects

Funding was successfully awarded from ERDF, Research England, and Staffordshire County Council.  The themes of the projects were developed in collaboration with regional partners to identify key strengths and potential for growth.  Each of the projects is match funded by Staffordshire University including through academic time.

Innovation

Skills development through the Enterprise Academy

The projects are part of the wider Staffordshire University Innovation Enterprise Zone (launched November 2020, Research England) to support research collaboration, knowledge exchange, innovation, and skills development.  This includes space for business incubation and low-cost shared office space in The Hatchery for new start-ups.  We also provide a Creative Lab (funded by Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP) for hosting business-academic meetings and access to the SmartZone equipment for rapid prototyping.

Spotlight on Innovation Projects

To highlight the differences between approaches we highlight two innovation projects.

Staffordshire Advanced Manufacturing, Prototyping, and Innovation Demonstrator (SAMPID) Staffordshire Connected & Intelligent Mobility Innovation Accelerator (SCIMIA)
Advanced manufacturing and product development Connected and intelligent mobility
ERDF funded ERDF funded
SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire SMEs in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire
12-weeks of funded support Up to 12-months of support
Innovation consultants (students/graduates) Innovation consultants (students/graduates)
Academic supervision, knowledge exchange and business support Academic supervision, knowledge exchange and business support
Dedicated technician support (0.5FTE) Dedicated technician support (0.5FTE)
3x funded PhD students to support projects and develop advanced innovation 2x Innovation and Enterprise Fellows to support technical business engagement
Funded advanced manufacturing equipment (including 3D metal printing, robot arms) and access to equipment in SmartZone Access to equipment in SmartZone
   

 

Case study videos:

Lessons Learnt

Business engagement

Project length

Student roles and recruitment

Supporting roles

Academic involvement

Possible future developments

References

[1] Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (2019).  Local Industrial Strategy – Evidence Base September 2019.  Available from Development of a Stoke-on-Trent & Staffordshire Industrial Strategy (SSIS) (stokestaffslep.org.uk)

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

 

Let us know what you think of our website