Engineering offers different ways of learning in computing, from problem-solving techniques to systems for managing code development. There are also many, many routes into engineering and technical careers open to students interested in computing.
Britain needs engineers. With around 25% of GDP being generated in engineering, it is vital to the future of our country. A projected shortfall of 1.8 million engineers by 2025 means that opportunities for today’s students will be plentiful – and many of these opportunities can be found in aspects of engineering that relate directly to computing.
Big data, cybersecurity, virtual reality and robotics aren’t just buzzwords thrown around by Silicon Valley whizz kids. They are rapidly growing areas of economic activity, where wages are high and skills are valued around the world.
Engineers tackle big challenges using transferrable approaches such as problem-finding, visualising, adapting – and the overlap with computational thinking is huge.
"A projected shortfall of 1.8 million engineers by 2025 means that opportunities for today’s students will be plentiful – and many of these opportunities can be found in aspects of engineering that relate directly to computing."
While computational thinking can be difficult to pin down to a set of lesson activities, this report from the Royal Academy of Engineering has begun a fruitful discussion around what engineering lessons actually look like.
Can students identify problems that can be solved computationally, through the manipulation of data using algorithms? They don’t need to code everything they ‘invent’, but will gain a better understanding of data if they dry-run the process. Can they see how parts of a solution work together – for instance through modular programming? Can they build on and adapt existing code, guided by a teacher employing the PRIMM approach?
The report maps out some ‘signature pedagogies’ of engineering:
- the engineering design process
- authentic learning with engineers
All of these seamlessly link into lessons in computing. Students might develop mobile apps after prototyping on paper or using lean-agile methods. Tinkering – learning by guided discovery – might make use of physical computing devices, sensors and motors, or involve finding out the best tools in Excel to crunch some data. And the easiest way to work authentically with engineers? Ask a STEM Ambassador to visit your classroom for free – they’re ready and willing to help.
The future will bring abundant career opportunities in digital innovation, informatics, autonomous systems, ubiquitous computing, haptics, network technologies, human-computer interfaces, AI, the internet of things… the list goes on.
Still too many young people – especially girls - think engineering isn’t for them, according to Engineering UK. Perhaps, with a better appreciation of how engineers think and act, we can change that for the better.