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Entering into the “Transition Twenties”

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

For my blog followers 2019 must have been disappointing, with only three blogs in the past 12 months. I put my available time instead in writing a paper for the CESAER university network Engineering Education for 21st Century Europe, and giving presentations and workshops in Scandinavia, North-America and Singapore, to inspire people and prepare engineering education for the “Transition Twenties” (Volkskrant 27 December 2019): In the next decade education will be about creative thought and leading technology.

From the Roaring Twenties to the Transition Twenties

An early 2001 OECD report about 21st century transitions suggests that the daily life by the third decade of this century will seem radically different when compared to the last decade of the 20th century. The socio-economic developments of the 21st century will put educational institutions into a very different context from their origin in the industrial era, with institutions undergoing significant changes in adapting to the contexts and needs of learning societies.

Although many of us still think 21st century sounds futuristic, yesterday already 20% of that century was gone. The third decade has started. In the Roaring Twenties of the 20th century human knowledge doubled every 50 years or so. The industrial machines ate electricity. In todays’ Transition Twenties of the 21st century, with the rise of the Internet of Things, machines will eat data, human knowledge is doubling every 12 hours… In the next decade our western society will increasingly change into a Smart Society by technological breakthroughs. They will bring us cashless payment, smart body implants, internet-connected smart textiles, self-driving cars, virtual holidays, personalised medicine, domestic robots and intelligent virtual assistants, functional food, in a post-truth and post-privacy world. These will be interesting times for our universities indeed.

Navigating the landscape of higher engineering education

In the past couple of months I used the CESAER discussion paper as the stepping stone for a more comprehensive 80-page report Navigating the Landscape of Higher Engineering Education – Coping with decades of accelerating change ahead, to be published as a free online open-access report in spring 2020. In this new report I aim to complement the vision in my 2016 report “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World” with new insights and offer a forward-thinking perspective on higher engineering education. It addresses my view on the changing roles in the engineering profession, the shifts in mindset and various kinds of literacy in engineering curricula. It discusses the greater responsibility students have for their own education and learning process, the importance of professional skills, and the integration of digital transformations and responsible engineering in curricula. Last but not least, it looks at the essence of impactful education, the need to upskill staff, and the impact of the vastly altered population of learners, mainly Generation-Z students.

My aim is to help bridge the gap between visionaries, thought leaders and those on the shop floor by describing frameworks, and by providing concrete examples and guidelines for a number of relevant subjects, such as challenge-based education, makerspaces and agile programmes. If you are interested in long-term change,  a chapter about reframing engineering education 2050 may be of interest. I conclude with 24 recommendations in four compass points for educational leaders, for the development of educational vision and strategy and their implementation in organisations and curricula.

4TU.Centre for Engineering Education new initiatives

In the second half of 2019 the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education started interesting new initiatives. Below you read some of the new initiatives at TU Delft. Or read the 4TU.CEE Strategic Plan 2019-2021 here.

Engineering Roles

In a comprehensive study we have tried to discover what the engineering profession will look like in 20 to 30 years by working out what engineering roles might be expected and desired by society. We built a picture of future context by gathering as much information as possible about a specific future, and then “working backwards” to the present-day, identifying policies that would get us to that desired future. The result of the study is a ground-breaking concept in which the drivers for curricula are no longer the engineering disciplines, but the engineering behaviours that are expected by future society. It has resulted in a comprehensive report and a flyer. A research project is planned to investigate the implementation of the roles in master education.

Joint Interdisciplinary Project

From September till mid November we delivered the second pilot of the Joint interdisciplinary Project with 50 students from all faculties, in nine different challenges. The range of the subjects was wide, from Game changers in Green Air Transport (Airbus), the enhancement of geothermal energy in the Netherlands (Well Engineering Partners), Nature inspired urban development (Arcadis), the development of a new generation industrial fresh food chain in subtropical urban regions (FresTeq China), and more. This year we will evaluate, improve, scale up the project to 200 students, professionalise the organisation, and implement this challenge-based education as a sustainable curricular element for master students.

Responsible engineering

One of the current challenges in engineering education is the integration of ethics education in engineering programmes, as part of training for engineers and designers. We have started a research project that addresses this important challenge. It will develop an overview of needs of engineering design programs and best practices and approaches on how to meaningfully integrate ethics education in such programs. This will provide for important insights for the 4TU universities.

Collaborative Design Lab

At the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering the 4TU.CEE supports the implementation, organisation and development of a Collaborative Design Lab. It is a state-of-the-art facility equipped for joint distributed teams who work with a network of computers, multimedia devices and software tools. It allows a team of students, academic staff and industrial experts from several disciplines, distributed all over the world, to design complex systems and advanced machines by applying the concurrent engineering method.

A research project will address the impact of the lay-out and use of such physical space and its collaborative elements on deeper learning gains, and what educational space are most efficient in different phases of the problem solving process?

Quantum education

A ‘Quantum Education’ project aims at teaching the basics of quantum computing and skills in quantum programming to students of the engineering disciplines. Quantum computing is an emerging technology that has the potential to change the way we will be solving computational problems in the future (exponentially) faster. Getting started with practical quantum computing is difficult, since it is based on a completely different mindset (reversible in-memory computing). The available hard- and software tools are very much premature. Writing a quantum computer program today comes close to coding numerical algorithms with the aid of punched cards in the 1950’s.

Education of the forward compatible engineer who is aware of the potential and able to apply quantum computing has to start today. This requires knowledge of quantum computing principles and practical experience with creating domain-specific quantum computing solution. In a  combined research and development project we aim to enable end-users to explore the world of quantum computing on the basis of pre-implemented quantum algorithms and building blocks that can be easily combined like Lego bricks to create new algorithms.

Moving forward in rewarding teaching excellence

Earlier this year the 4TU.CEE facilitated a Teaching Cultures Survey among 4TU lecturers to gather their views about the status of support for university teaching at their university. The Teaching Cultures Survey was developed by a global partnership to explore and track the culture and status of teaching in universities. It stems from the Teaching Excellence Framework by Ruth Graham, an open-access career framework to help universities evaluate and reward the teaching achievements of their academic staff. The Teaching Career Framework is now being applied in the Netherlands on national level (VSNU). The survey will be repeated in 2021 & 2023.

33% of the lecturers responded. 2678 members of the 4TU academic community took part in the survey, ranging in seniority from PhD students to senior university management. The results show that survey participants were positive about the existing support for university teaching but would like to see greater recognition of teaching within the academic career in appraisal and promotion. Here are five interesting findings:

  1. Professional development: the majority of staff values pedagogical training and development as a regular part of one’s job (86%). The 4TUs provide a supportive learning environment opportunity to develop and improve teaching practices (67%);

  2. Teaching is undervalued: over 50% feels that teaching is a career limiting path, and only 23% feels teaching provides a positive impact on career progression;

  3. Prioritising teaching excellence: over 50% of staff would like university teaching to be very important in promotion opportunities. The support is largest among university leadership;

  4. Commitment to rewarding teaching excellence: academic staff feels there is a low commitment towards rewarding teaching excellence; 18%.

  5. Teaching deserves more attention in the annual appraisal: only 25% stated substantial interest was shown for teaching activities during the annual appraisal. One does feel supported in developing and improving teaching practices (67%).


There is no doubt the Transition Twenties will be interesting times for universities. I am looking forward to the adventures the Twenties will bring.

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