IEEE Calls for Integrating Standards Into Engineering Curriculum

IEEE is seeking opportunities to incorporate learning about standards into engineering, technology, and computing curricula

6 November 2009

There’s plenty of stuff they don’t teach in engineering schools, including how to negotiate a contract and how to manage people.

Add to that list learning about industry standards. Although the standards are designed to play a major role in the development of new products, young engineers often are surprised by their scope and style. To acquaint the students with the subject and to help engineers make good use of existing standards, IEEE is seeking opportunities to incorporate learning about standards into engineering, technology, and computing curricula.

That objective was spelled out in a position paper approved by the IEEE Board of Directors in June. The paper outlines the importance of integrating technical standards into academic programs within IEEE’s fields of interest.

“To get universities and colleges to the point where they pay attention to standards, it’s necessary to influence them through the accreditation process—which is a key reason for the development of the paper,” says IEEE Senior Member Steve Mills, chair of the IEEE Standards Education Committee. The position paper is the work of his 2-year-old group, a joint committee of the IEEE Standards Association and the IEEE Education Activities Board.

“This paper will be shared with accrediting organizations such as ABET in the United States, JABEE in Japan, and ABEEK in Korea,” Mills continues. “With the help of IEEE volunteers such as IEEE’s representative on the ABET Board of Directors, we will use the position paper to encourage discussion and examination of accreditation requirements with regard to standards.”

Several engineering and standards associations will be asked to review and comment on IEEE’s position, including VDE, the German Association for Electrical, Electronic, and Information Technologies; and IET, the British Institution of Engineering and Technology.

THE PROBLEM
At some point in their careers, most engineers are asked to design a device, write an algorithm, or improve a system using an industrial standard. Unfortunately most engineering and computing students have never encountered an industrial standard in school, points out IEEE Fellow Moshe Kam, vice chair of the Standards Education Committee.

“Right now engineering students can graduate from many programs around the world without ever having seen a standard and, in many cases, almost never having heard of one,” Kam says. “Even those who are in their last year of an undergraduate program are unlikely to make meaningful use of industrial standards in their final project.”

“IEEE believes this situation needs to be changed,” he continues. “Students should be acquainted with standards, not just with IEEE standards but with technical standards in general and with the standardization process. Our position paper recommends ways instructors can incorporate standards—especially in a last-year project, which is almost universally required in engineering programs.”

The recommendations include:

  • Indicating that a process or a device discussed in the classroom is covered by a technical standard, with a citation to the standard. This goal can be achieved by using textbooks that review and include a reference to technical standards in their narrative.
  • Indirectly introducing a technical standard by extracting the principal aspects of its specifications and incorporating them in classroom instruction, homework assignments, laboratories, or projects.
  • Extensively using a published standard or excerpting a significant portion of it for classroom instruction, homework assignments, laboratories, or projects during the student’s last or next-to-last year of undergraduate studies.
  • Regularly using and referring to technical standards in large-scale projects and major assignments. Specifically, the relevance and applicability of technical standards should be part of the progress reports and final reports of last-year capstone projects. A standards search in the project’s domain of applicability is as important as a literature search in that domain.

“We are not looking for standards to be taught wholesale, because such an effort would probably be too time consuming and difficult,” Kam acknowledges. “Still, we must acquaint our students with the idea of standards and provide them with some preparation, even if it is only at the level of general awareness. We should not leave students with the erroneous impression that they will design new products and algorithms in an environment free of constraints, compatibility requirements, and regulations.

“By providing education on standards we will improve the preparation of students to be effective in the workplace,” he continues.

TEACHING AIDS
The IEEE Standards Education Web site provides educators and students with materials and resources for incorporating standards in undergraduate engineering and engineering technology programs. The site contains tutorials and case studies introducing the history of standards; basic terminology; applications; standards’ impact on product, process, and service design; and examples of the use of standards in general and within various technical fields. A glossary defines commonly used standards, related terms, and words and phrases used in the tutorials and case illustrations.

Also available are papers submitted by students and their faculty mentors that describe the way specific standards were applied to a task and how they affected the design process. Submissions accepted for the site receive a grant of up to US $500.

Experts in various technical areas are needed to create tutorials and case studies demonstrating the application of standards. For more information, send a message to stdseducation@ieee.org, download a New Project Proposal Form.

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