Engineering Educators From Three Continents to Meet

Conference focuses on educational needs of IEEE Region 8

3 February 2012

The facilities to educate the engineers the world requires vary greatly among countries. In North America, the former Soviet Union, and China, for example, engineering education benefits from uniform curriculum standards, good resources, and large pools of students with a common language, to go along with a high demand. But in IEEE Region 8—which covers Europe, Africa, and the Middle East—those factors are far more variable.

To advance engineering education throughout Region 8, some 300 educators and industry leaders plan to meet in Marrakesh, Morocco, from 17 to 20 April, for the third IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference. Educon is sponsored by the IEEE Education Society; Université Mohammed V—Souissi of Morocco; the University of Vigo, Spain; and Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Austria.

“Educon began in 2010 as part of the IEEE Education Society’s strategic plan to hold larger professional development events for engineering and computer science educators in regions outside North America,” says Russ Meier, the society’s vice president for conferences and workshops.

According to Rob Reilly, the society’s president, the idea was for Educon to be an annual conference in Europe, the Middle East, and Mediterranean-area countries and other developing parts of the world that was on a par with the widely cited Frontiers in Education (FIE) conference. Cosponsored by the IEEE Computer and Education societies, this conference has been held annually in the United States since 1971. As part of the Education Society’s strategic plan, Reilly says, it plans to hold similar events in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia later this year, and in Latin America next year.

The program includes a day of workshops, plus three special sessions of invited papers. This year these special sessions cover IT and engineering pedagogy; technical didactic software engineering, in which participants discuss their experiences in learning and teaching software engineering; and the question of whether mobile learning disrupts educational methods and practices.

Meier, an IEEE senior member, says he expects mobile learning (“using cellular devices with location awareness to provide information and ask questions about areas near the user”) and remote learning (“using equipment and facilities at another site via the Internet when the user’s site lacks them”) to be hot topics. Mobile technologies enable students to work autonomously outside the classroom, and remote learning enables them to work with resources pooled among several universities, even across borders, and with industries that can afford equipment the local universities lack. “That’s especially important in developing parts of the world,” Meier says. “Attending the first Educon in 2010 made me much more aware of the diversity in engineering education around the world.”

IEEE Fellow Manuel Castro, Educon 2012’s financial cochair, points out that the pooling possibilities allow the sharing among institutions of remote, networked, and Web-based labs, as well as instruments and other equipment. Virtual mobility in the form of cooperative learning among institutions will also come into play, Castro says, with one school able to integrate into its curriculum another school’s subjects.

STANDARDIZING EDUCATION
The Bologna Process, a European initiative to standardize academic degrees, accreditation, and educational quality, will certainly be addressed. But the conference also will focus on the educational needs of African and Middle East countries, organizers say.

“Most Middle Eastern and Gulf countries follow the U.S. credit-hour and undergrad and graduate systems, although a few North African countries have completely or partially fulfilled the Bologna requirements,” says IEEE Senior Member Abdullah Al-Zoubi, general chair of the 2011 Educon, held in Amman, Jordan. “There is a gradual move toward such standardization in the Mideast because of the European Commission’s decision to involve countries neighboring the European continent in their research and educational programs.” Countries in the Western Balkan region, the Middle East, North Africa, and the former Soviet Union are the most likely to be affected.

“In my opinion,” says Al-Zoubi, “Middle Eastern and North African universities and communities at large will witness some impact on their educational system because of their involvement in EU programs. We already feel the propagation of new culture, values, practices, and ethics in educational and research systems. It is, however, too early to predict that the Mideast will fully or partially adopt the Bologna process.”

Adds Meier: “Educon was designed as a forum for people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa—all the major areas of IEEE Region 8. These areas share some challenges but certainly not all. They have different demographics in their school systems, different levels of laboratory and instructional resources, and different social and cultural problems that must be addressed through education.

Learn More