The past, present and nurture of engineering

The past, present and nurture of engineering

Anujit Jena Mahamaya Mishra | Mar 22, 2021

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"As engineers, we were going to be in a position to change the world – not just study it.”

Henry Petroski

Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, vehicles, buildings and lots of other things. The term engineering originates from the Latin words, ingenium, meaning "cleverness" and ingeniare, meaning "to devise". The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specialized fields of engineering, depending upon a particular area of applied mathematics, applied science, and types of application. The contribution of engineering towards the betterment of the world is enormous. This article focuses on the origin and evolution of engineering with time, with a spotlight on the relevance of the teaching models and the scope for improvement.

Indians’ Love Affair with Engineering

The large number of engineering graduates produced every year denotes the Indian obsession with engineering. Engineering, being a professional qualification, gives a secured feel in career terms, which is a great attraction, in several classes of society. Apart from an engineering career being a tool of social mobility, the requirement of mathematics as a prerequisite denotes its popularity in a society that has, since ancient times, respected and held mathematical skills in high esteem.

The Roots

The history of technology in the Indian subcontinent spans from prehistoric human activity in the Indus Valley Civilization, early kingdoms to the post-Independence modern era. Even in the prehistory era, the use of technology was prevalent in India. Irrigation and system of standardization, using weights and measures, are evident by the excavations made at the Indus valley sites. Excavations at Balakot, present-day Pakistan, have yielded evidence of an early furnace.

Engineers acted as a vital part of early kingdoms in India. Baudhayana composed the Baudhayana Sulba Sutra in the eighth century BCE, which contains examples of simple Pythagorean triples. It has been discovered that the Zinc mines of Zawar, near Rajasthan, were active during 400 BCE. The Arthashastra of Kautilya mentions the construction of dams and bridges. Modern weaponry and gunpowder weapons were transmitted to India during the Mongol invasions of India. It is interesting to note that Hyder Ali, prince of Mysore, famous for his interest in the field of science and technology, developed war rockets with metal cylinders to contain the combustion powder.

However, the first use of the English term ‘engineer’ in India by a group of people was by the East India Company’s corps of military engineers, whose task was to build roads, bridges and fortifications required by the army. The first engineering college of India, Thomason College, was established in 1847, to train civil engineers at Roorkee, Uttarakhand.

Reasons for Popularity

Post World War I, the ‘native’ Indian engineers succeeded in the government services and increasing numbers, and their job came with great prestige precisely because of their status as government administrators. The perks included a stable job, government housing, a retinue of servants and subordinates, and government honours for long-serving officers.

Government jobs and the high status during the pre-Independence times, combined with the nation-building post-independence, may explain the prestige of engineering in this country. Though the definition of engineering has experienced major changes over time, yet it can be stated that the railway engineer and the dam-builder are but distant cousins of the desk-bound software engineer.


Jewels of the Field

Here are a few engineers who have made significant contributions to the field by use of skills and ideas beyond the reckoning of the average engineer.

Archimedes

“Mathematics reveals its secrets only to those who approach it with pure love, for its beauty.”

Probably this name is known to all. Universally recognized as the greatest of all classical engineers, he has contributed to the fields of mathematics, physics, engineering, and astronomy. Moreover, he is attributed as the father of mathematics. From his formulation of the "Archimedes principle" and screw pump to compound pulley systems and defensive mechanisms for his home island of Syracuse, Archimedes is indeed one of the greatest engineers.

Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya

"It is better to work out than rust out."

He was a Bharat Ratna awardee, a prominent Indian engineer, scholar, statesman, and the Diwan of Mysore. Sir Visvesvaraya was born on 15 September 1861. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from Central College, Bangalore and later studied civil engineering at the prestigious College of Engineering, Pune. Engineer’s day in India is celebrated in his memory.

Elon Musk

“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour.”

The South African born modern-day engineer, inventor, and businessman is blazing a trail that is an inspiration for the world. From the Tesla car, SolarCity, SpaceX, and the idea behind the Hyperloop, nothing seems out of reach for Elon Musk. He is a man who believes in the beauty of his dreams and makes them come true.

Pichai Sundararajan

“As a leader, it is important to not just see your success, but focus on the success of others.”

Sundar Pichai joined Google in 2004 and is presently serving as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google Inc. He is one of the highest-paid CEOs in the world. He earned his engineering degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in Metallurgical Engineering. He also acquired an M.S. degree from Stanford University in Material Sciences and did his Engineering and MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


The Relevance of the Process in the Presesnt Spectrum

University teaching is a multidimensional process. Further, the engineering faculty needs to learn new approaches for teaching and learning, which in turn requires effective professional development for both new and experienced instructors alike. It is a fact that the efforts towards ‘‘good teaching’’ often remain underrated, especially in higher education.

Room for improvement

To be in sync with global development, the Indian education system needs to adopt measures to bring improvements in the existing administrative procedures and teaching methodologies.

Over a long period, researchers in the field of education have been exploring and analyzing the phenomenon of teaching, which is indeed a complicated process. However, it is universally accepted that instructional performance plays a key role in the learning and academic achievements of the students.

At the core level, the aim of teaching is simple and straight: it is to make student learning easier and enjoyable. To teach is to assume what and how the student learns; therefore, to teach well implies learning about ‘students’ learning’. According to researchers, good teaching is flexible and is open and acceptable to change.

The teacher’s voice about good teaching practice is also an important aspect. Pedagogy, constructivism and participatory learning can show the path of a meaningful teaching-learning process and thus can give an idea regarding which characteristics of good teaching are essentially affecting the teaching-learning process.

Trends Right Now

With modern gadgets and interfaces, one can initiate learning based on their need, preference, and availability. A new way of need-based learning has been evolving that can help people in critical procedures like surgery, and provide guidance, synonymous to a physical instructor. Features like speech-to-text, coming with most devices, makes note-taking and writing even more comfortable and fast-paced.

EdTech

EdTech/ Educational technology, the name speaking for itself, stands for the amalgamation of technology with the age-old teaching process and is being consistently improved. Let us look at some of the latest innovations under this.

1. Blockchain Technology

Like cloud computing, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) from blockchain solves the problem of data storage to a large extent. Every time new data is added, it adds another “block” to the system, thus making the storage limitless (technically). Simultaneously, the data is encrypted and distributed across multiple computers in the system. Blockchain technology is being implemented in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and ePortfolios to verify skills and knowledge.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

As per predictions, through 2021, AI could become the primary trend and grow by more than 45%. The First and foremost reason behind this is that AI can automate basic activities in education, like grading and providing feedback based on performance. Also, students could get help from AI tutors at times when professors are unavailable.

3. Learning Analytics

Mainly consists of Insights from the students’ learning processes, for instance, teachers can see what type of information (text, images, infographics, or videos) students enjoy most and use it more in their following lessons and where they lagged. Furthermore, learning analytics helps educators identify blocks of students who may have academic or behavioural challenges.

Innovative Implementations

  1. iClassroom

Kerala engineering students in India recently won the CODE19 hackathon, for creating a virtual classroom to enable uninterrupted learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their winning entry, iClassroom, connects students with teachers through a social media-type interface. Students and teachers can interact with each other, answer questions, mentor others and conduct online classes, share resources and keep track of progress in selected courses, without the need to use multiple communication tools

2. ‘Tree-House School’

US-based designer Valentino Gareri has come up with the “Tree-House School” that addresses health concerns regarding COVID-19 while incorporating a modular design that has room for future expansion.

Classrooms would be well-ventilated, and social distancing would be easier to achieve due to the extra spaces incorporated in the design. Sustainable features included rainwater collection and wind energy devices.

3. As another example of implementation, in a certain study, a professor used a CD or DVD as a diffraction grating, where the measurement of the length between orders of diffraction and the distance between the screen and the object provided the period of the tracks. The process recorded an extremely positive response from the students since learning was enhanced several folds.

Update Required!

It’s time to look at some latest (and some forgotten) innovative approaches to revolutionize the teaching-learning process. For instance, Model-based learning in subjects like Machine Learning, Animations to explain paradoxical concepts of quantum mechanics can be quite beneficial from the student's point of view, employing the Document camera for online classes can be a good start, Collaborative learning approach can be used to bridge the gap and strengthen their interpersonal skills, including gamification as a part of the curriculum can enhance interactive learning to a large extent. In simple words, technology has provided teachers and learners with a new and enhanced way of interacting during the learning process.

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