I’m running late for class. This is not a new phenomenon.
A couple of emails popped into my inbox right before I left my office, and I got distracted. It happens. Anyway, that’s not super important, except to say that it made me five minutes late for class. And counting.
Oh, and it's not even my class that I’m late for. I am covering for a colleague who is out today, so it’s his students who are waiting for me.
Hopefully. They might be gone by the time I get there.
7 minutes late. Better pick up the pace.
I make it to the classroom. Almost dropped my coffee while negotiating the combo of door handle, notes, and computer. Almost.
I walk in, and take stock of the situation.
Strange. It looks like all the students are still here. Quick head count; yep, 22 accounted for.
Stranger still: They appear to have started class without me.
I set down my gear and walk around the room to take a closer look. The students are working in groups, maybe 3-4 in each. Laptops are sprinkled throughout the room, and prototypes in various state of construction are everywhere. A buzz of chatter floats about the tables.
The professor is late for class (substitute instructor, no less), yet the students not only stayed, but are working away unprompted.
Something is different here. This would not have happened when I was a student, for sure.
What's going on?
This scenario is playing out right now across the country in engineering classrooms. Well, hopefully not the being late part (again, it happens).
No, the part where students are thinking that class is less about learning X, and more about doing Y.
And more to the point, where students are demonstrating a combination of skillsets and mindset that unleashes their potential for being change agents in our modern world.
The key to this change? There are a lot of factors, obviously. But a big one, in my opinion, is giving students the chance to address a pain point.
When engineering students are presented with pain points, like my colleague has done in his class, they immediately kick into action. They start thinking of solutions. They build things. They collect data. They fail…and start building again.
In short, they start engineering.