ASEE Connections

December 2015




In This Issue: Products & Programs
ASEE Promotion:

ASEE's Exclusive New "Engineering Education Suppliers Guide"
A new online resource designed specifically to help engineering educators locate products and services for the classroom and research.
Learn More



According to ASEE Profiles Survey data, engineering schools expanded their faculties by 12 percent between 2005 and 2014. Undergraduate enrollment in engineering grew at a rate of 4 percent per year, on average, during the same period. The rate of growth in the number of faculty members varied significantly by discipline. Above average growth was seen in civil/environmental, engineering (general), biomedical, petroleum, architectural, computer science, metallurgical, aerospace, nuclear, and mechanical engineering. Faculty pools in disciplines such as environmental, mining, engineering management, computer, civil, engineering science and engineering physics, biological and agricultural engineering appear to have shrunk over the past decade.





When it comes to worrying about running afoul of antitrust regulators, U.S. high tech companies these days must look beyond America’s borders — primarily to Europe. Over the last decade, the European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, has become the world’s most vigorous public enforcer of abuse-of-dominance laws, reflecting a European political view that’s much less laissez-faire than America’s. This month, the EC filed antitrust charges against Qualcomm, the large U.S. chip maker that supplies many of the chips need to run increasingly popular mobile devices, including smarthphones and tablets. The European regulator, which began its investigation last July, charges that Qualcomm has taken advantage of its dominant market position by offering manufacturers financial incentives to buy its chips. It also says the company is setting prices below cost to force competitors from the market. Qualcomm says it looks forward to defending itself and proving that wireless chip competition remains strong. It has until April to respond to the EC. It could face fines of up to 10 percent of its annual worldwide revenue, which was a lofty $26.5 billion last year. The EC has also recently charged Google with altering searches to favor its own services, and is investigating Amazon’s e-book distribution methods. In recent years, Europe’s competition regulator has wrung billions of dollars in fines from other American tech companies, including Microsoft and Intel.



Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Abigail Noel Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin. The lawsuit seeks to upend the university’s use of race considerations in admitting students. The court will decide by next summer. As Emily Bazelon, who covers the court for the New York Times Magazine, writes, the case comes at a time when “minority students and their supporters have channeled the spirit of Black Lives Matter and demanded more. More black, Hispanic and Asian and Native American faculty members. More resources. A greater sense of belonging. The Supreme Court may be poised to make them settle for less . . . fewer seats in the future entering college and university classes.” The Chronicle of Higher Education warns that a decision that undermines race-based considerations could fuel campus unrest. It notes that nearly 70 schools this year have been jolted by demonstrations of minority students who “complain of feeling unwelcome and isolated on campuses.” A coalition of educators, it notes, filed an amicus brief with the court warning that if admission processes that include race are terminated too soon, those students’ sense of isolation will only worsen. It’s expected that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy will be the high court’s swing vote on this case, and Bazelon writes that while his record clearly shows he’s no fan of race-conscious government programs, “he has never ruled to end these race-conscious efforts altogether.”




Classrooms without Borders

An 11-university series of virtual courses reaches across oceans and cultures to promote global collaboration and shared learning.

By Mark Matthews

Starting next fall, every aspiring engineer at the University of Southern California will take at least one course in a virtual classroom linking Los Angeles with Beijing and Taipei, perhaps, or with Haifa, in Israel, and Aachen, Germany. Ice breaking cross-cultural exercises will show that no, U.S. campuses are not all frat parties and football and yes, East Asian students actually have a social life. As the class moves on to shared projects, more assumptions will dissolve: Germans may not be the default project coordinators, nor Asians the researchers, with Israelis arguing and Americans making the final presentation.

The courses are part of iPodia, a “classroom without borders” launched in 2009 that links USC’s Viterbi College of Engineering with 10 world-class engineering schools in a series of courses designed to promote peer-to-peer learning and global collaboration. The 2016 academic year will mark iPodia’s coming of age at USC, with every engineering department mandated to offer at least one course in the program and each USC engineering major required to take one iPodia class. The program also attracts a number of business students.

iPodia is the brainchild of Stephen Lu, a USC professor of industrial and systems engineering who claims to “really hate teaching,” or at least the kind where a lecturer delivers content while students listen passively. One of his main research topics is collaborative engineering, and he thinks it should start with undergraduates. What better way to develop the teamwork skills required of 21st-century engineers than to have students from vastly different cultures, separated by oceans and continents, engage in peer-to-peer learning and joint projects?

Taught by individual instructors or multinational teams in several countries at once, iPodia is built around strong student participation, taking into account varied learning styles, levels of preparation, and facility with English. Based on the theory that “what you learn depends on with whom you learn,” classmates of different nationalities share ideas – what Lu calls “co-constructed knowledge ‘contexts’” – before, during, and after class using various web tools, including WebEx, Adobe Connect, Skype, Google Hangout, and BlueJeans.

iPodia matured at roughly the same time as massive open online courses – MOOCs – which provide elite university teaching to a seemingly infinite number of students worldwide. While both iPodia and MOOCs use web and video technology to beam classes around the world, iPodia is centered on students in the participating classrooms and emphasizes interaction among classmates in different countries.

Pure science can be taught solely with content, but in engineering, “context is what’s needed to make sense of the material,” Lu argues. “If you can talk to people who think differently, then you actually learn more to enhance contextual understanding.” Students can see and hear students in classrooms an ocean away, pose questions, and make comments. And because each class is in familiar surroundings, students tend to feel more confident about speaking up, Lu says.

A typical iPodia course might be beamed to rooms full of students at three of the 10 partner schools. Large screens in front of each class display two other classrooms, each standing alongside a central screen featuring the instructor. In preparation for the class, students are expected to bone up on the content through reading, watching videotaped lectures, and viewing slides. They then complete a “pain index” survey, noting the material they find most difficult to grasp. A student who struggled with a particular concept will be matched with others who found it easy and who can explain it via online discussions and email. “Sometimes they end up more confused, but on the whole, there are big increases in student understanding,” says Ian Freed, a USC senior who took an iPodia course last spring and then was hired as a teaching assistant with the program. Instructors also tailor lectures and other material to address student responses.

International teams of students from each campus stay in virtual touch through the semester and share joint projects. A final phase might include a two-week visit to a participating country, where teams work face-to-face to complete a project. An iPodia trip to Israel was a high point for Peking University student Xinrui Feng, acquainting her with U.S. and Israeli students and how they think. She also made a number of new friends among fellow Chinese students.

Cross-cultural exercises have included, “Describe a successful product/service that fails in a different culture,” “Document the daily life of a typical college student on your home campus,” and having students identify five artifacts that would be totally unfamiliar to students across the globe. In one such exercise, USC students produced a video about life on their campus, while their East Asian counterparts produced one on how they imagined USC life to be. In the latter, “they played to stereotypes – frat parties, playing football all the time. There was some truth but a lot of exaggeration,” Freed recalls. Still, “they had a better understanding of what we were like than we had of what they were like.” For one thing, the Asians are not total grinds. “There’s a social aspect that none of us really expected.” This came through vividly to Lyssa Aruda, another iPodia student and later TA at USC, when she saw a Harlem Shake video produced at 4 a.m. by students in a library at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

Project assignments build on cross-cultural themes. In 2013, international teams conducted market research on toasters, exposing them to bread varieties around the world, and then sought to determine which design features – two or four slices, a bun warmer, plastic or brushed steel – stood to earn a profit. Freed’s class sought ways to make use of discarded bicycle tires on campus. Their solution: repurpose the tires as rubberized concrete for community playgrounds. For a project that culminated in a visit to Beijing by students from the United States, India, and Israel, an iPodia class teamed up with a Chinese company, GizWits, “to produce a life-sized chess set that could move via remote controls.”

Project presentations brought their own cultural surprises, Aruda recalls. Whereas students from laid-back L.A. produced something “rigid, bland, and professional,” the work by students at hyper-competitive Peking University was “more colorful and light-hearted,” with smiley emojis.

Courses should have “an interdisciplinary and intercultural core,” iPodia materials say; “a focus on emerging subjects that are of global importance”; and should promote “active learning on a global scale.” These requirements offer room for such broad themes as “Principals and Practices of Global Innovation,” as well as a specialized graduate-level course offered at USC and Peking University on “Technology of Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources Development,” which explores the geology and technology needed to exploit these resources. In 2012, an iPodia Alliance of participating schools agreed on a set of rules, among them: No money changes hands, each school does its own grading, and new universities must be voted in. Participating schools to date are: USC, Peking University, Tsinghua University, National Taiwan University, KAIST, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, RWTH Aachen University, India Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, Escola Politécnica da Universidade de São Paulo, Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, and Qatar University. A possible 12th partner is Iran’s Shiraz University.

There have been glitches and growing pains. iPodia’s organization is complex. Scheduling across time zones and the disparate academic calendars of these universities has been a struggle. Communication between schools has broken down at times. Cross-cultural projects, while attractive in concept, can be hard to implement. Team coordination was cited as a problem by a number of USC students in an iPodia survey. They also noted a “disconnection between content and project.” A study led by Ang Liu, who helped develop iPodia while a USC student and now manages the program as a non-tenure-track faculty member, compared a globally distributed iPodia team project and a project conducted locally at a single university. The local teams did better, outperforming globally distributed teams “in terms of all measures of team effectiveness.”

At the same time, iPodia scored well in preparing innovators for a global workforce. Applying two instruments used by STEM and engineering education researchers, iPodia students were compared with a National Science Foundation-funded national sample. In both preparedness for the global workforce and propensity for innovative thinking, iPodia students came out ahead, indicating the program’s “significant positive effect,” according to a paper co-authored by Liu, Lu, and USC associate professor Gisele Ragusa, who specializes in engineering education. Aruda says iPodia “astronomically” boosted her ability to perform on an international team.iPodia also got high marks in a student satisfaction survey, with most respondents saying they would recommend it to friends. Indeed, some iPodia classes have three times as many USC applicants as slots, Liu says. Students find it particularly valuable as a networking venue, he adds, often forming relationships that continue long after the term is over. “The best value is dealing with people from other places,” Freed agrees. iPodia has won global recognition as well, with Lu being awarded the 2015 Duncan Fraser Global Award for Excellence in Engineering Education from the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies.

While instructors at partner schools have performed well, Liu says, he wants to see more of a “strategic commitment” from the universities themselves so iPodia can “scale up.” Right now, some still view it as a pilot project. For his part, Lu hopes for stronger faculty buy-in, which he calls “one of our major challenges.” At USC, under Viterbi’s new policy, that seems assured. “Faculty are fine with it. Many of our faculty are enthusiastic about the iPodia program,” says Dean Yannis Yortsos.

The bottom line for Lyssa Aruda, now completing an accelerated master’s in engineering management, became clear during a job interview in which she could explain newfound cross-cultural communication techniques. She landed a job with the global technology consulting firm Accenture.




When Good Intentions Fail

How an ‘authentic’ design assignment prompted made-up solutions.

By Andrea M. Goncher and Aditya Johri

We present, contrary to most research findings, a sobering account of how efforts to make engineering education more authentic did not produce the intended results. The disproportionate attention students paid to institutional and organizational constraints, such as grades, while working on a realistic first-year design project interfered with their learning about engineering design practices and led them to fudge results.

Our study closely followed four teams, each with four students, over the course of an eight-week design project for an introductory engineering course. The project’s goal was to develop a sustainable energy solution and create a prototype within a $20 budget. To collect data under a qualitative case study approach, we video recorded team meetings and interviewed teams at the end of the project. We also had access to all of the teams’ design artifacts, such as sketches, reports, and team-member evaluations.

Our initial aim was to better understand what aspects of the problem guided students’ design decisions and whether they followed the design practices taught in their engineering course. In other words, we hoped to see if designing sustainable solutions, brainstorming, and prototyping were effective in achieving the intended learning outcomes.

As the theoretical framework for this study, we used nested structuration theory, which explains how societal contexts affect individual or team work patterns. Using this theory to analyze the data yielded a surprising result. We discovered that the educational goals of the design project were less salient to the students than the institutional context, such as the project requirements, their grades, and other course work. Although intended to be authentic, the project felt contrived to the students, who saw it as merely a course assignment and not a “real” design project. Throughout the process, students made such comments as, “If it comes to a real project, I’d talk to the company and be like ‘Yeah, this isn’t safe,’ but this is a weed-out class design project.”

In their group interviews, students commented on the institutional and organizational factors that had shaped their approach to the design project. The relative importance of courses often determined time spent on various activities. As one student said in a design meeting, “I’m trying to get this done so I can go back to studying for physics.” Grades were a big concern because they determined admission into their engineering major of choice. The final report guidelines, intended to keep students on schedule, led them to fabricate items post hoc, and they often reported inaccurate timelines or results. Students also negotiated the small budget by falsifying project material costs. Justifications for making up elements of the reports were common. Consider this team member’s excuse: “Yeah, [student X] said don’t even worry about this thing, just throw it together, and go with it. He lives right next door to me in the dorm. But he’s a second-year, and he did this.” Or this: “All right, let’s make it up. It’s like one to two paragraphs.”

Overall, our study highlights the difficulty of making projects more authentic when done within a curricular setting. In such cases, student practices do not reflect the intended learning outcomes. We recommend that educators utilize features of the institutional and organizational contexts to facilitate and enhance students’ design practices. Furthermore, it is important to align and integrate the project with material from other courses, so that the project does not feel like a separate entity. Educators should create a project timeline that facilitates student time management but also allows for flexibility within and across design phases; promote an iterative approach to design by allowing students to make changes and redesign throughout the process; and align project requirements with the intended learning outcomes. Further research may demonstrate additional ways in which educational contexts influence student practices and learning.

Andrea M. Goncher is a postdoctoral research fellow at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. Aditya Johri, co-editor of the Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research, is an associate professor and chair of the information sciences and technology department at George Mason University’s Volgenau School of Engineering, where he directs the Engineering Education & Cyberlearning Laboratory. This article is based on “Contextual Constraining of Student Design Practices” in the July 2015 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education. The work was partially supported by NSF awards ITR-0757540 and EEC-142444.





Job–hunting? Here are a few current openings:


1. Aerospace Engineering -- 2 opportunities


2. Electrical and Computer Engineering -- 8 opportunities


3. Nuclear Engineering -- 1 opportunity


Visit here for details:






ASEE’s 2016 Engineering Research Council Annual Conference will be held on March 7-9, 2016, at The Sheraton, Silver Spring, Md., sponsored by the ERC and its Executive Board.

The ERC exists to support and enhance research in engineering, technology, computing and applied science in educational organizations. At the conference, leaders from federal research funding organizations and policy organizations will discuss R&D trends and upcoming new programs and priorities. Engineering deans, associate deans, department chairs and other engineering research leaders are encouraged to attend.

Early registration rates end February 19, 2016. For more information, including notification of a format change, please visit –



New Navigation Section - Papers Management: The new section contains upcoming deadlines, guidelines, call for papers, and kits for authors, program chairs, reviewers, and moderators.

Author's Kits are Available: The 2016 Annual Conference Author's Kit -- available on the website -- contains extremely important information regarding the submission process as well as all relevant deadline dates.

THE ST. LAWRENCE SECTION CONFERENCE will be held at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., April 8-9, 2016. This year the conference will include several workshops. The calls for papers, presentations, posters and workshops as well as information about the Conference Program, Registration, and Hotel information is available on






COVER: The steady increase in engineering graduate students from overseas begs the question: What’s keeping more U.S. students from pursuing graduate study?

SAFETY: Faculty at two major engineering schools – University of Florida and Texas A&M – join forces to promote a culture of laboratory safety.

SUPERSONIC: Commercial supersonic air travel died when the Concorde was mothballed. Now there are signs it could spring back to life.




Do you have a comment or suggestion for Connections?

Please let us know. Email us at: Thanks.

This Newsletter was sent to you by:

American Society for Engineering Education
1818 N Street, N.W.
Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036


Managing Editor: Tom Grose
Information for Advertisers


To unsubscribe from this newsletter, please reply to with "Unsubscribe" in the subject line - please include the email address that you would like removed from the mailing list.


American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)

This email was sent to [email address suppressed]. If you are no longer interested you can unsubscribe instantly.