Elsevier’s James Harper has just written a valuable new guidance article for the Engineering Ethics Toolkit on Why information literacy is an ethical issue in engineering. We got together with him to discuss this further.


James, where did your passion for this issue originate and how can the resources available for information literacy be put to use both by faculty and students?  

We live in a time marked by an unprecedented deluge of information, where distinguishing reliable and valuable content has become increasingly difficult. My concern was to help engineering educators meet the critical challenge of fostering ethical behaviour in their students in this complex world. Students are in real need of an ethical compass to navigate this information overload, and the digital landscape in particular. They need to acquire what we call ‘information and digital literacy’, specifically, learning how to research, select and critically assess reliable data. This is both a skill and a practice.  

For students, how does this skill relate to the engineering workplace? 

From observing professional engineers, it’s clear they require comprehensive insights and data to resolve problems, complete projects, and foster innovation. This necessitates extensive research, encompassing case studies, standards, best practices, and examples to validate or refute their strategies. Engineering is a profession deeply rooted in the analysis of failures in order to prevent avoidable mistakes. As a result, critical and unbiased thinking is essential and all the more so in the current state of the information landscape. This is something Knovel specifically strives to improve for the communities we serve. 

Knovel – a reference platform I’ve significantly contributed to – was initially built for practising engineers. Our early realisation was that the biggest obstacle for engineers in accessing the best available information wasn’t a lack of resources, but barriers such as insufficient digitalisation, technological hurdles, and ambiguous usage rights. Nowadays, the challenge has evolved: there’s an overload of online information, emerging yet unreliable sources like certain chatbots, and a persistently fragmented information landscape.  

How is Knovel used in engineering education? Can you share some insights on how to make the most of it? 

Knovel is distinguished by its extensive network of over 165 content partners worldwide, offering a breadth of trusted perspectives to meet the needs of a range of engineering information challenges. It’s an invaluable tool for students, especially those in project-based learning programs during their Undergraduate and Master’s studies. These students are on the cusp of facing real-world engineering challenges, and Knovel exposes them to the information practices of professional engineers. 

The platform is adept at introducing students to the research methodologies and information sources that a practising engineer would utilise. It helps them understand how professionals in their field gather insights, evaluate information, and engage in the creative process of problem-solving. While Knovel includes accessible introductory content, it progressively delves into more advanced topics, helping students grasp the complexities of decision-making in engineering. This approach makes Knovel an ideal companion for students transitioning from academic study to professional engineering practice. 

How is the tool used by educators? 

For educators, the tool offers support starting in the foundational years of teaching, covering all aspects of project-based learning and beyond. It is also an efficient way for faculty to remain up-to-date with the latest information and data on key issues. Ultimately, it is educators who have the challenge of guiding students towards reputable, suitable, traceable information. In doing so, educators are helping students to understand that where they gather information, and how they use it, is in itself an ethical issue. 

To learn more about the competence of information literacy check out our guidance article, Why information literacy is an ethical issue in engineering.

Knovel for Higher Education is an Elsevier product. As a publisher-neutral platform, Knovel helps engineering students explore foundational literature with interactive tools and data. 

46% of EPC members already have access to Knovel. To brainstorm how you can make the best use of Knovel in your classroom, please contact: Susan Watson, susan.watson@elsevier.com.  

Faculty and students can check their access to Knovel using their university email address at the following link: Account Verification – Knovel

Get Knovel to accelerate R&D, validate designs and prepare technical professionals. Innovate in record time with multidisciplinary knowledge you can trust: Knovel: Engineering innovation in record time


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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.

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