Chief Executive’s blog: learning for the future

The way we teach people is changing, radically. The days of the class room, lecture theatre, students sitting in rows and being talked at could well be a thing of the past.

This week CIWEM undertook a visit to the City University of Hong Kong to accredit their Master of Science in Energy and Environment Course. We accredit courses as part of our responsibilities to educate for the public benefit. Accreditation delivers a number of advantages and benefits to the universities and their students not least because it introduces industry practices and thinking into the course content. Surveys of students tell us of the importance of vocational learning which helps to crystallise decisions on career choice and prepares students for the workplace, something which employers look for when selecting candidates for interview.

Also, this week I attended the launch of the ‘Facing the Future – working together to tackle global challenges’ programme at Brunel University. Included on this programme are an MSc Water Engineering and FdSc/BSc/MSc Flood & Coastal Engineering courses. These are a truly vocational suite of courses and a significant step in attracting people into this most rewarding of professions. These are areas where there are significant skills shortages and a massively increasing demand for the brightest minds to solve immense challenges. The Environment Agency, Brunel and their partners at HR Wallingford are to be congratulated on bringing this together. The courses have also been assessed for accreditation by CIWEM.

Students on a course accredited by CIWEM receive complimentary membership of CIWEM. This brings access to our on-line Environment Magazine, our technical journal and other materials, our events and our training. It also creates a link for students with our experts and industry. Our accreditation process and visits involve interviewing students to understand their wishes and needs from which we help to shape their course. This also gives us valuable information that we can share with other academic partners. CIWEM also undertake knowledge exchange visits with students on the courses that we accredit. You can find out more about CIWEM accredited courses here.

So what of the classroom and lecture theatre?

The Dean of College of Engineering  Design and Physical Sciences at Brunel, Professor Stefaan Simons, shared some of the plans for the expansion of The University with new learning centres designed to deliver a completely new way of learning. The approach is orientated around learning in groups or teams. These teams can be connected by various communications technologies and then brought together for combined learning as appropriate. This mimics the workplace environment where sub teams often work under an overall project. This also engenders greater interaction in learning and, with less ‘talking at’ encourages original thought and innovation.

This style of learning is influencing the architecture of these new centres which in themselves become a stimulating and creative environment to be in. This leads me to my concluding remark for this week which is to share the thoughts of Prof. Julia Buckingham, Vice Chancellor and President of Brunel University. The importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects is receiving ever greater attention in attempts to meet a shortfall in these disciplines. Julia suggested that we should now be thinking about ‘STEAM’ in recognition of how the application of these disciplines is an Art and that Art can enhance our approach and the results we achieve. We do not yet know how we are going to meet the environmental challenges that we face. Perhaps it is time to broaden our thinking?