Signs of the times

Signs of the times

2500 years ago, the philosopher Socrates once worried about how a new generation of students would cope with the invention of writing. Flash forward two millennia and it’s not hard to see that while the technology might be more advanced, the teacher’s dilemma has stayed the same.

In a rapidly changing world, how can educators prepare their students for success? To find out, Atlantic Business Magazine tracked down those on the cutting edge of classroom innovation.

We discovered that it’s not so much about what you teach, but how you teach it.

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial University is nothing less than a regional powerhouse in engineering education and research. The faculty is staffed by award-winning professors including prestigious research chairs backed by leading players in industry, such as Husky Energy, Chevron, Statoil, Wood Group, and C-CORE. They offer one of the premier co-operative education programs in the country, splitting student time between classroom learning and hands-on experience in the workplace every second semester.

The explosive growth of the faculty in recent years carries its own challenges, but MUN Engineering is taking it all in stride. “Students are really anxious to see their studies being applied to real-world problems,” Associate Dean Andy Fisher told Atlantic Business. “It’s not just about lecturing all the time, but what’s critical is our focus on learning outcomes.”

Capitalizing on new technology has been one of the keys to Memorial Engineering’s success — both for students and instructors. Using their phones and laptops, students can provide instant feedback on lecture material, making the classroom learning more dynamic. Professors record and share their lectures and presentations online, allowing students to access them anytime and review any sections they found particularly difficult. They can also share the online learning modules with other instructors, making for collective improvements to the teaching process.

Of course, technology in the classroom can be a double-edged sword. “It’s a fantastic enabler, but it can also be a distraction,” Prof. Fisher concedes. But instead of policing students, Memorial takes a different approach: treating them like professionals and focusing on the learning outcomes.

“We start off in first year stressing that they’re young professionals. The co-op work terms really help with this. It reminds them that they can’t be a professional one term and then not the next. It’s seamless. We’re helping them develop the attributes and competencies that employers are looking for.”

It’s this emphasis on developing professional attributes that puts Memorial a cut above. “We’re preparing graduates to enter into and succeed in a profession,” Prof. Fisher explains. “So we identify throughout the program we will help students develop skills like leadership, teamwork, communications, and ethics.”

But the real proof of Memorial’s success is in their students. Dean, Dr. Greg Naterer, shares his enthusiasm for the student success. “Employer feedback we have received has been consistently excellent. For over 45 years of fully integrated co-op education, employers come back term after term to hire more of our co-op students, now in the order of 400 student work placements per semester. The Canadian Association for Co-operative Education (CAFCE) recently granted the programs a full six-year accreditation.

“Our graduates have become leaders in their organizations and award-winning alumni. Recently this year, this magazine named four MUN Engineering graduates among Atlantic Canada’s top CEOs: Terry Hussey, Rick Tiller, and Jason Muise, and Atlantic Business Magazine’s 2016 CEO of the Year, Larry Puddister.”

The Faculty is midway through an exciting period of major expansion in an eight-year strategic growth plan. A massive new infrastructure project on campus, called the Core Science Facility (CSF) (425,000 sq. ft.) will enable a significant portion of this growth with modern, world-class engineering facilities.

The Faculty has also launched a new Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE), in partnership with the Faculty of Business Administration, to foster an entrepreneurial culture through new curriculum opportunities, mentorship programs, entrepreneurship work terms, and other supports to students who want to start their own businesses.

According to Dr. Naterer, the dynamic learning environment is what sets Memorial apart. “These types of programs are available at other universities, but what’s unique here is the depth and quality of experiential learning and collaboration among disciplines such as between engineering and business.”

Prof. Fisher agrees. “We’re always looking to make the academic experience more engaging for students. Recently, I finished my term as president of the Canadian Engineering Education Association, and all across this country, there’s a desire to enable engineering students to have a broader range of skillsets as well-rounded individuals. I think Memorial is on the leading edge of this movement.”

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