Manufacturing AUTOMATION

For educators, the future is now

January 24, 2013
By Dick Morley

This column is about education.

We need a definition, but I find it difficult to find one that makes some sense. The best I can do is to define education as the communication to the next generation. We can get education from the master, the village elder, books and formal brick-and-mortar temples. We need education. As Mandel said, “Education is the most awful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The definition I like the best is “education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.” It is much like a communication link between generations that takes 10 years to do the transmission. It would be interesting to formally treat education as a transmission system.

I’ve noticed lots of communication on the frequently asked question: “where are the new engineers?” There are several answers. Industrial engineering and automation are not popular subjects. For example, I attended one of those meetings that justify the local university. We attend meetings that have no meaning and we just sit and listen to a potpourri of PowerPoint success stories.

Several years back, however, engineering admissions got our attention. My area of interest at this particular college is mechanical engineering (ME)—‘tis a dominant subject for incoming students. The students pointed out that they had little interest in industrial engineering, although the rest of ME was popular. There is also a population change because of the death rate. The population increase is not a result of the birth rate. The per capita interest in available children is not as high as it would be, even if we had the same per capita interest in the courses. There is some hope, however.

As some of you know, my wife and I have taken care of many children over the years. Recently, one kid visited with their children. They had a seven-year-old son and an 18-month-old son. We were talking and the seven-year old was playing Angry Birds on my iPad. The 18-month-old was crying. I asked about the reason for the crying. His father, holding him in his arms, said, “He wants to play with the computer.” What? He said, “I’m not fooling.” Sure enough, after a bit of struggle to disengage his older son from Angry Birds, he gave the iPad to the 18-month-old son. The child’s eyes lit up and he smiled. He got close, and his hands (with no real finger control) played with the computer—smiling. Here they come.

Professor Neil Parmenter, who teaches at Daniel Webster College, a regional college in Nashua, N.H., has used me as an adjunct professor in the past. (This means I don’t get paid.) I posited the question to him and I have his answer here:

“Education is going through an evolution (metamorphosis, morphing, etc.) as seldom seen before, even in industry. Technology is paving the way at a fever pitch with mobile devices, video conferencing, ebooks, etc.

“The new millennium professor can focus more on delivering education, as he/she is technologically supported with digital grade books that the examine students’ work, follow a professor-designed rubric and calculate the appropriate grade.

“A new breed of educator will need to be tech savvy in order to secure a faculty position or even survive one.

“Now everyone can participate and pursue a degree, whether they are bedridden, constantly on the road or working swing shifts. People have had that opportunity for years, although never before in such a rich, motivational, technological environment.

“The major publishers are all providing eBooks and other online resources. Either that or perish.

“Students are connected to the course, the classroom, fellow students and the professor through devices such as the iPad, iPhone or other highly mobile devices—24/7.”

My teaching is mostly over the Internet. I teach for IDC Technologies, based in Australia. It is tough on me. We run courses all over the world, and since the world is round and huge, I must teach sometimes at 2 a.m. or 7 a.m. following the time zones. The course is difficult and accredited. We do multiple courses and my involvement is introduction and graduation—kind of like the principal in your high school.

I do have some advice for those who want to teach and those who want to learn. A strict discipline is the way to go when enforced by outside factors.

Example: I needed some exercise and was getting no results with self-management. I went to therapy for three weeks, established the discipline and now I’m on my own. We all need help, whether we like it or not. So my advice to you and yours is to teach both your hands and your mind—MIT’s original slogan. Now they seem to all have sports jackets with leather elbows. Read everything you can. It does not have to be relevant.

Education is like a bumpy road. You are not moving if you don’t feel the bumps. The future is here and now; don’t waste next year. There’s a Chinese saying: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” There is a difference between memory tests and understanding. Learn and teach. Do it now.


This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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