Canadian Engineering Education Association Inaugural Conference recap

First of all, the conference program is here. All the paper versions of the presentations will eventually be deposited in Queen's IR, QSpace, but don't seem to be there yet. I posted about my presentation here: Using a Blog to Engage Students in Literature Search Skills Sessions.

Now, If there can be said to be a theme to a conference which has no official theme, then the CEEA conference's theme was nicely summed up by a question from the audience during one of the sessions:

"How do you teach humbleness?"

Again and again it came up -- the challenge of teaching young, confident and accomplished engineering students to stop and think. To see social context, the big picture, to see their own blindspots, to engage lifelong learning, to focus on the uncertainties rather than certainties. Most of all, to be humble and open minded when set the talk of solving hard technical problems.

Perhaps it was my own selection of sessions to attend that gave this theme its shape and other's wouldn't see it the same way. Perhaps it was the shadow of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But I don't think so, basically due to the selection of keynote speakers. Of course, many of the presentations were of a purely technical nature, talking about the best way to get across hard core engineering information to students, so it's completely possible that another attendee would have a different view.

In any case, since the papers will be posted eventually, I'm not going to go into a detailed summary of the presentations. However, I will try and draw a "humbleness" line, however tenuous, through many of the various talks I attended.

It started with the Graduate Attribute Assessment Workshop on Monday morning where a lot of the talk was about the place of lifelong learning into the CEAB's set of graduate attributes. And it continued with Queen's librarian Michael White's talk Back to the Future: Teaching Students How to Search Patent Databases which was basically about teaching students to search as widely as possible and as thoroughly as possible -- basically to use the esp@cenet tool instead of some of the more commonly used ones.

Queen's librarian Nasser Saleh and David Strong's Students' Conceptions of Life-Long Learning: An exploratory study was also very strongly about engendering strong communications stills, humbleness and intellectual curiously among engineering students.

Doug Reeve, Greg Evans and Annie Simpson's The Leader-Engineer - Capabilities, Competencies, and Attributes brought leadership into the equation. Leadership is something that can be taught and that every engineer must do at some point.

Next up was plenary speaker, former local politician Sean Conway was basically about engineering getting beyond the stereotypical image of "The Iron Ring Crowd" who talk down to and at non-technical people and engaging more authentically and honestly as peers with the people that are affected by technical decisions.

I'll now mention a few presentations together: Medhat Moussa and William David Lubitz' Enhanced transfer of Design skills using Professor of the Loop structured Meetings, Medhat Moussa, William David Lubitz and Antony Savich's Publishing undergraduate engineering designs, a case study and Margaret Hundleby, Medhat Moussa, William David Lubitz and Peggy A. Pritchard's A Writing Kit for Engineering Design Reports. These papers described an amazing University of Guelph program of mentoring and guiding students through all the phases of design projects with intense involvement of professors, writing instructors and librarians.

Kadra Branker, Jacqueline Corbett, Jane Webster, Koray Sayili, Ivana Zelenika-Zovko and Joshua Pearce's Engineering Service Learning with Green Information Technology and Systems Projects described a project to involve engineering students in real-world sustainability projects.

The Tuesday evening keynote was by George Roter, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Engineers Without Borders Canada. In a truly wonderful talk, Roter really emphasized the value of uncertainty and humbleness when teaching engineers -- teaching them about what they don't know as much as about what they do know.

John Phillips, Christian Giroux and Warren Stiver's The Collaboration of Fine Art & Engineering at the University of Guelph described a really amazing collaboration between the engineering labs and fine arts students -- expanding the horizons of both. Vicki Remenda's The Great Debate: A Vehicle for Inquiry and Critical Assessment of Knowledge was about using formal public debates as a way of showing students the reality of different sides of an issue, that there's passion on all sides and a validity to exploring that.

Overall, it was a terrific conference. The size was just right, with a total attendance of around 125 or so. It was very intimate, with a real community feeling. It was great to reconnect with several library colleagues (Sharon Murphy, Nasser Saleh, Morag Coyne, Michael White, Randy Reichardt) and meet a few new ones too (Tara Mawhinney, Leanne Morrow) as well as getting a chance to meet and talk to a number of engineering faculty. As it happens, there were only two of us from York, the Associate Dean for Engineering Spiros Pagiatakis and me, and I was the only one presenting.

I continue to think that it's incredibly important for us as librarians to get out of the library conference rut and start going to the intellectual spaces where our patrons -- faculty, staff and students -- live and work. Get to know them and we get to know ourselves, to understand what we should be doing. Similarly, if they get to know us and what we can offer, it just makes our lives easier. Attending an engineering education conference is part of that.

One thing that was a bit unfortunate was all but one of the the librarian presentations (and there were six in total) were segregated into two Information Research and Management sessions. Pretty well all our presentations could have easily fit into one of the other categories. As a result, the two sessions were mostly other librarians and a few brave faculty souls; from the comments I heard from those faculty that did attend the librarian sessions (both about my presentation and about the others), I think all our sessions had a broader interest and both we and the conference as a whole would have benefited from a slightly different setup. But that's just a quibble.

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