Adapting The New Norm In Engineering Education

As 2021 begins and the Covid-19 pandemic continues, it can be clearly seen that almost all industries are slowing down and dissipating after a year of impact from the pandemic.

Many businesses have been struck hard around the world, with education businesses amongst the hardest hit.

The disruption of face-to-face and practical (hands-on) teaching and learning between academia and students, has led to a multitude of impacts on students globally and resulted in the sustainability of tertiary level education being questioned.

The transition to online learning

online learning
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Inadvertently, the pandemic has enhanced online learning in higher education around the globe.

Students at universities are confronted with a paradigm change, and they must adapt to using a variety of tools, including those available in the public domain.

The transition to online learning, unsurprisingly, highlighted the digital divide in teaching and learning methodologies between developed and emerging countries. The disparity in access to information technology such as personal computers and the Internet, as well as associated accessible resources are now common issues.

“Engineering students and academics, like all other tertiary education disciplines, have had to acclimatize to this new paradigm shift in teaching and learning as well as research methodology,” highlighted by Ir. Ts. Mathan Sambu.

How are universities adapting to the new change?

All university courses are now taught online utilising Online Remote Learning (ORL), and the transition from traditional teaching and learning pedagogical approaches to online delivery mode is clearly noted.

Ir. Ts. Mathan Sambu further added “Academics are being requested to engage with students during the development of the right implementation practises to ensure that students have successful, stimulating, and meaningful learning experiences,”

According to him, the design of ORLs should be focused on learning goals and outcome-based education. It must also encourage inclusivity to foster productive interactions between academicians and students.

Ir. Ts. Mathan Sambu also highlighted “that It is important to instill consistent principles of engagement between the educator and the learner. He added that for ORL deployment, there is a need to deploy asynchronous collaboration resources on a secure platform that uses current advanced technologies.

How to ensure online learning helps the students?

online learning helps the students
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The aim is not to recreate the face-to-face learning experience within a traditional classroom setting but rather to ensure learners can work independently and are able to properly use resources, through this online/blended learning.

Academicians are required to adopt innovative approaches when offering ORL for engineering core subjects in order to attract and retain student interest, including a greater emphasis being given to problem-solving through using formulas and equations.

Adapting in-class activities to the simulated classroom is another way of involving students in a creative manner.

Academicians can initiate online engaging activities to ensure that students are fully engaged in class rather than only watching.
Academicians should ensure that live sessions are available for students to aid their revision, and to handle hiccups, particularly for students who are falling behind or are unable to completely attend the lecture/class series.

In the School of Engineering, UOW Malaysia KDU University College,, the online platforms ‘Open Learning’ and Microsoft Teams are utilised to distribute lecture notes as well as to conduct exercises that address not just the immediate course conditions but also effectively communicate the subject’s real-world implications.

In fact, Ir. Ts. Mathan Sambu added “This will augment the current “needed” material and, ideally, provides students with a deeper and more comprehensive experience”.
In essence, both universities and industry should collaborate to carry out project-based modules such as capstone projects during the pandemic.

Ir. Ts Mathan said, “Universities can use online video conferencing to connect with industry personnel facing related engineering problems, and it is also possible to organise interactive tours to aid student understanding of the nature and essence of a particular industry sector.

Webinar presentations may also be organised in collaboration with the industry to illustrate the mechanism addressed in class and related issues.

How important are lab simulations for engineering students?

lab simulations for engineering students
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In 1928, Edwin Link developed the ‘‘Link Trainer’’ (Flight Simulator) which is believed to be the first simulation program used in ‘‘Blue Box’’. The simulator was used to train thousands of military pilots before, and during, WW II.

When asked about the most appropriate way to perform simulation-based or virtual laboratory sessions so that the results follow the same requirements as actual laboratory sessions, Ir. Ts. Mathan said that although converting physical learning to virtual laboratories is a challenge for educators, simulation software has become an essential tool in replacing the physical lab.

He also highlighted that simulations play a vital role in engineering education especially in regard to laboratory exercises. Simulations are also general instructional resources in computer science programs.

Simulation labs are mainly used for the pre-lab experience or to provide students with an understanding of real-world experiments.
This definitely can assist students in being familiar with the procedure, improve their abilities, and aid in predicting the result prior to conducting the experiment in a physical lab” he said.

Are open book exams good or bad for an engineering degree?

Most universities adapted online courses/subjects/units during the Covid-19 pandemic and the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

Students were also frequently tested with online exams without any invigilation. This clearly raises concerns with respect to the integrity of assessment and the associated genuineness of students.

However, proper planning can be adopted with suitable mechanisms to ensure the validity of the evaluation and thus normalising unsupervised assessments.

In designing open-ended exams or test questions for relevant subjects that require students to solve problems using engineering formulas and calculations, it is crucial to include information on the methods where their achievements will be measured and the relative evaluation of units, or elements of the module in respect to the assessment overall.

In addition, open-ended questions may have several solutions, but when a question only demands one correct answer, students sometimes assume that there is only one way to solve the problem, which is not always the case.

According to Ir. Ts. Mathan, academicians must explain their thought process to students through an open-ended study.

One of the advantages of using open-ended questions is that students can express what is on their minds, which is an important aspect of critical and complex thinking.

Are engineering jobs affected by the pandemic?

Crossing through this pandemic situation while simultaneously being in the transition towards the Industry 4.0 era, many engineering careers and job opportunities will be revoked or replaced by other niche areas.

It is a true fact that as long as our planet rotates between day and night, there will be no end to engineering, as engineering will be the first sector to actively generate inventions and innovations as per Ir. Ts. Mathan’s statement.

According to data gathered by LinkedIn, Coursera and the World Economic Forum in the Future of Jobs Report 2020, a change in the distribution of labour between humans and robots is expected to eliminate 85 million workers by 2025.

But then, engineering demand never fades, only moves to empathize with a different engineering-related cluster. Therefore, job opportunities within the engineering sector within the Industry 4.0 era.

To achieve this every higher education institution should play an important role in preparing graduate engineers that are able to respond to change.

Ir. Ts. Mathan added that the high employability rate in the School of Engineering is due principally to the implementation of complex problem-solving skills and a research concept course being introduced in earlier stages. This is to ensure that students are ready to meet current industry trends and demands upon graduation.

Should you pursue an engineering degree?

pursue an engineering degree
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Even if there is some debate as to whether students should take up engineering, this course had various benefits. Firstly, the skills you obtain through an engineering degree are transferable.

Whatever form of engineering you choose, you will be tasked with solving difficult issues, a talent that is in great demand across a wide range of sectors. Your technical skills would come in handy if you ever decided to change jobs or sectors.

Moreover, being an engineer entails being paid to develop and invent on a daily basis.

Engineers, regardless of their area of specialty or degree, must work on a variety of projects throughout their careers.

You will always have the required tools to create your own systems and projects, whether you are interested in physics, construction, or something else.

You can study engineering at UOW Malaysia KDU. Our program is carefully designed to ensure our students gain the essential skills and experience they need to be successful engineers in the future.

Send your enquiries here!

Concluding remarks

As students are gradually returning to campus during the RMCO, universities and academicians will agree that maintaining ORL for certain modules/courses is more time effective.

Despite the initial setbacks, Ir. Ts. Mathan Sambu believes that academicians and students will discover that the currency of technologies used will eventually lead to widespread acceptance and adaptability.

Finally, he concluded that the recent trend towards utilising ORL in engineering education will become the new norm in the near future.

Written By Ir. Ts. Mathan Sambu. P.Eng. CPEng, IntPE.
Lecturer, School of Engineering
UOW Malaysia KDU University College


20 October 2021


Science and Technology