By Maxim Vitale (on behalf of ELINE)
In contrast to the rest of STEM, post-secondary engineering education suffers from a disconnect between the theory required of academic degrees and the practicality required of professional degrees, failing to meet what is demanded by both. Within the McGill EUS, a new committee founded this year strives to promote “a culture of engaged learning among the engineering student community”. With an emphasis on applying psychology and cognitive science, the Engaged Learning in Engineering (ELINE) committee is applying a multidisciplinary approach to better student learning habits not previously seen among engineering societies in Canada.
After attending ELINE’s first event on October 8th, dubbed “ELINE 101”, I spoke to the Chair of the committee, Aastha Goyal, to discuss the mandate and aspirations of the group. The group currently consists of an Executive Team of 7 members, each friendly and welcoming. Surprisingly, Goyal told me that executive recruitment only began in August; moreover, ELINE was only conceived in April of 2020 in collaboration with the Enhancing Learning and Teaching in Engineering (ELATE). “We had an overwhelming number of applicants,” Goyal mentioned. “I originally thought nobody was going to be interested in such a committee”.
Goyal’s experience as a teaching assistant for various math courses required facing the same dreaded questions teachers do: How am I going to use this? Give me a visual representation for this, because the numbers on the board mean nothing to me. This led into a discussion of teaching and student learning in the faculty of engineering: unlike other STEM faculties, as she can attest from her brief experience as a student in the Faculty of Science, the emphasis on theory is dissimilar to engineering. Through her own experiences as a student, and through her contributions as VP Academic for the ChESS and VP Outreach for POWE McGill, she was able to realize the facets that would comprise the three main pillars of ELINE: academics, engagement, and EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion).
By trying to find a balance between theory and practicality, students are not commonly presented with or reminded of their holistic learning objectives. With certain preconceptions about engineering, students often have the impression that theory should be left to the physicists and the chemists, and that engineering is about application. This is simply because students have not seen how the individual elements comprising their coursework apply to more advanced subjects and fields of engineering; or, rather, many aspirational students simply want to graduate and start working.
Consequently, for Goyal and ELINE, it is important for students to be able to learn any subject they desire inside or outside the classroom, so as not to be wholly dependent on the way a course is delivered: “I think it’s time to finally accept that Engineering cannot stand on its own without all of the collaboration that exists between research and industry. It would be ignorant of us to not use the whole wealth of knowledge discovered from psychology and the cognitive sciences to better our understanding of our personal learning behaviors.”
Students may instinctively think of cue cards and mnemonics, but ELINE is attempting to be more diversified and comprehensive than some of the conventional learning approaches taught to students. Although it may be enough to get students through school with strong academic records, short-term memorization and mimicry is simply insufficient in comparison to the faster ‘deep learning’ required later from students. “ELINE’s goal is to help students put aside old habits and unlearn some of the things they have learned, and to reshape the way they are going about or thinking about learning,” said Goyard. This, however, would require students directly engage with something known as the ‘unlearning’ process to regain control of their academics.
Meanwhile, too many academic resources are aimed at students already well-versed in learning and studying techniques, while one-size-fits-all approaches to learning also neglect differences between students. For example, while some have mastered focused-learning, many engineering students are unaware of (or actively dismiss) diffused-learning. The subject of equity, diversity, and inclusion is necessary to ensure that the correct needs of students, both individually and collectively, are being addressed.
While the committee is still establishing itself, Goyal joked that “Even though it may not seem like ELINE is in full production yet, to me, we are doing so, so much. One of the caveats of starting a new committee is establishing a presence not only to the student body, but also to the heads of the different bodies and parts of the faculty”.
Presently, ELINE is working hard to branch out their campus and social media presence, hoping to integrate themselves seamlessly into the McGill and the EUS ecosystem. So far, ELINE can be found on the EUSwiki and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram under @ELINEMcGill. Also, keep an eye out for a podcast series actively in the works. A one-day event is currently planned for March, consisting of conferences and workshops, although the specifics are still being determined. ELINE hopes to become a centralized hub like MESC on a more student-to-student level, and to become an accessible body of knowledge for engineering students that ensures all material put out by the committee is credible and scientifically proven.