Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Thinking Skills vs. Doing Skills

November 29, 2006

Commenting on Scoble’s post about the apparent shift to commercial skills-based education in Universities where he questions the role of a university. Mike over at Searching, Searching, Searching comments and asks:

Don’t we need the skills to THINK through the problem?

I wonder whether a mix of the two is not the best solution. Of course it depends on what it is your studying. Not everyone in university is studying in areas that involve rapidly changing information.

That being said, here’s my experience:

I earned a university degree in structural engineering, and have been a practising professional engineer for almost 10 years.

After graduating, I worked full time in construction for about a year and a half (which I have on and off since I was 16) and finally found a structural engineering position.

I also teach a structural design course and a construction methods course at a local college part time. So I have seen both the University and College side of things.

I found that my university training, while giving me the theoretical background and ‘thinking’ tools, left me at the bottom rung when it came to real-life, real-world experience. It was my construction experience which saved me in this regard, not the degree. This practical experience coupled with the education gives you a leg up on others when it comes to solving problems and providing quality design work in my opinion.

I think that while Universities should concentrate on developing the ‘thinking‘, they shouldn’t forget about the actual ‘doing‘ either. They could use a shot of practicality in my view (Co-op programs are a great start but only available in some programs.).

Likewise, I think Colleges should put some more emphasis on developing the ‘thinking‘ skills. I try to impart those in the courses I teach, but make no mistake, it’s all about delivering the goods, in the right quantity, in the allotted time. I make time to discuss the why’s and not only the how’s, but I can’t necessarily say the same for other instructors.

Clearly universities and colleges could both do with a little change.

Taoist Monks, Blood, Snow-Shoes – Ahh Stress…

November 20, 2006

In this age of hyperactive personal productivity, telecommuting, and the always-on 24/7 work week, there is a lot of talk about stress and how to deal with it.

Instead of giving you the latest Feng Shui-43 Folder-Taoist monk idealogy (you can get that just about *anywhere* on the net these days!) I thought it’d be interesting to give you an alternate view of stress.

From where I come from (an engineering background), stress is a force applied over an area. It’s more popular nickname might be ‘pressure’. When you fill up your tire with air you measure the pressure in ‘psi’. That’s ‘pounds per square inch’ – a force distributed over an area. Pretty basic huh?

What’s better is when you realize how fundamental the idea of stress (or pressure) really is:

Stress = Force / Area

Ever walk in deep snow? If you’ve got your normal winter boots on, you’ll quickly find yourself sinking in up to your knees . How is it that when you put on a pair of snow shoes you can walk on top of that snow? Stress baby! More precisely the reduction of it. The force (your body weight) hasn’t changed, but the area you spread that force over has increased. So if stress is a force divided by an area, by increasing the area you’re reducing the stress! Snow of course can only take so much stress before it compresses/collapses/fails, so by wearing big wide snow shoes you increase the area, reduce the stress and don’t fail or crush the snow (as much as you normally would).

How about a more simple, involving example:

Step 1: Take a nice sharp pencil.

Step 2: Jab it at your arm.

Step 3: Remove said pencil – swear like a trucker – and mop up any blood.

Step 4: Next, take the blunt end of a wooden spoon handle.

Step 5: Jab it at your arm.

Step 6: Smile and notice that you’re not swearing like a trucker, nor mopping up blood.

Why is it that the sharp pencil hurts so much while the blunt wooden spoon handle does not?

Assuming you applied the same jabbing force in each case, the contact area of the pencil is much much smaller than that of the wooden spoon handle and hence the stress applied by the pencil is much much higher than that applied by the blunt spoon handle. The larger the contact area, the lower the stress.

This basic concept of stress is put to use all around us everyday. Building footings are designed with this concept of stress at their core (think concrete snow-shoes people!). Bridges, buildings, cars, airplanes, machinery and a multitude of other things rely on the basic principle of stress in much of their design.

So when you think of stress, don’t just think of Taoist monks and aromatherapy. Think of blood, pencils and snow-shoes as well. πŸ™‚

P.S. Wow. I actually put an equation into a blog post. I’ve really got to get out more. πŸ˜‰