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The MERge Pedagogical Model for Undergraduate Science and Engineering Education

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

Message Number: 
1434

In the postmodern era, where barriers between disciplines are falling in every aspect of our professional life, we need Managerial, Educational, and Research skills. The MERge pedagogical model proposes adopting this perspective in institutions of higher education in science and engineering at all levels, from undergraduate programs to deans. 

Folks:

The posting below is by Professor Orit Hazzan, Dean of the Faculty of Education is Science and Technology at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. She proposes in this essay the MERge pedagogical model which asserts that any undergraduate science and engineering program should contain some elements of three meta-professions – Management, Education and Research – which together create the MERge pedagogical model. It is argued that the MERge pedagogical model increases science and engineering graduates’ flexibility in the job market and improves their ability to steer their professional career, either in academia or industry.

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

UP NEXT: Flipping the Flipped Classroom: The Beauty of Spontaneous Instantaneous Close Reading

 

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The MERge Pedagogical Model for Undergraduate Science and Engineering Education

 

In the “Think Outside the Lab” editorial of 16 May 2014, Science editor Marcia McNutt addresses “skills that are not sufficiently covered in most traditional science Ph.D. programs that are highly valued in many nonlab positions. Communications skills are near the top of our list, particularly the ability to explain complex scientific concepts to diverse audiences. Related to that is the ability to listen, which is the first step in understanding how the application of science can help meet the needs of others. Also high on the list is an understanding of people: how to recognize their strengths and shortcomings, to motivate them to achieve their best, and to assemble diverse teams that achieve what no individual could ever accomplish.” (Vol. 344, no. 6185, p. 672, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/344/6185/672.full). These skills are, in fact, all managerial practices.

In a similar spirit, the 3 September 2014 Nature editorial, “There is life after academia”, asserts that “With high numbers of postdocs emerging from universities, prospective PhD students must be prepared for the fact that they will probably not end up with a career in research.” And that “Universities should do more to help their PhD students to gain skills and contacts that will come in handy beyond academia.” (Vol. 513, no. 5, http://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/1.15808!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/513005a.pdf).

This essay further expands this perspective in two respects: first, in addition to the graduate level, it addresses also undergraduate degrees in science and engineering, and faculty members and deans in science and engineering institutions; second, in addition to managerial practices, it addresses educational and research skills. Specifically, this essay presents the MERge pedagogical model which asserts that any undergraduate science and engineering program should contain some elements of three meta-professions – Management, Education and Research – which together create the MERge pedagogical model.

The concept 'meta-profession' refers to a skill which can be expressed meaningfully only based on disciplinary and professional knowledge in one of the scientific or engineering domains (acquired, in most cases, in an undergraduate science and engineering program). For example, let us examine the case of big data. One must first acquire a disciplinary professional knowledge in computer science in general and in data sciences in particular, as a basis upon which each of the meta-professions is applied, e.g., Management of the development process of a software tool that is based on big-data analysis, Education of undergraduate and graduate students, or Research on a new algorithm that analyzes properties of big data.

I argue that the MERge pedagogical model increases science and engineering graduates’ flexibility in the job market and improves their ability to steer their professional career, either in academia or industry. The rationale for this perspective, as laid out below, is that no matter what career these graduates pursue after graduation, they will need these skills. Specifically, the MERge model may increase practitioners’ awareness of the need to include in their professional activities the three meta-professions, as well as of the benefits they may gain from applying the holistic and comprehensive perspective suggested by the MERge model, when developing their initiative.

In what follows is a description of the three meta-professions, including their role in the case of three specific careers.

Management encompasses all aspects related to human resources, budget, marketing, operation, culture, and change management.

Education is a central element in any career development. Consider the need to keep adjusting to new technological developments, to facilitate team learning, and to prepare presentations for a potential customer: they all involve educational – teaching and learning – elements. As Science editor Marcia McNutt said (see above), it is accepted today that no one can accomplish alone the challenges a business faces, and that knowledge sharing, which is, in fact, an educational skill, is crucial. Furthermore, identifying knowledge gaps and closing them is also about education.

The Research component of the MERge model provides practitioners with the needed skills to base their decisions on relevant data rather than on gut feeling which relies, in many cases, solely on their (or others’) previous experience. Such data may be retrieved from the analysis of previous initiatives in the relevant field, potential growth, and SWOT analysis of the said initiative.

Table 1 illustrates the expression of the three meta-professions in the case of three science and engineering careers: a) an entrepreneur, with an engineering background and an MBA, who is going to decide on his or her next investment; b) an engineering professor, and therefore with a strong research experience, who serves as a dean of the School of Engineering. Based on feedback from the industry regarding the required skills expected to be acquired by graduates of the school, the professor wishes to lead a change process in the school and conceives the redesign of the undergraduate curriculum as the central theme to address; c) a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) teacher, either in academia or in a high-school, who wishes to lead a national change in the AP (Advanced Placement) exams in one of the STEM subjects.

It is argued that no matter what scientific or engineering initiative the three practitioners deal with, they all should be aware of the potential contribution to the initiative of each of the three meta-professions, both separately and interchangeably. In practice, the three practitioners – the entrepreneur with an MBA background, the professor with the strong research skills, and the STEM teacher with the educational background – should not necessarily apply the three meta-professions as experts. Their scientific and/or engineering education, as well as their basic knowledge in the three meta-professions (acquired in the framework of the MERge model), are sufficient to increase their awareness of the role of each of the three meta-professions in any initiative development; the actual implementation can be carried out by experts in the relevant meta-profession.

Meta profession

Practitioner

Management

Education

Research

Entrepreneur

Consideration of the managerial aspect and implications of different options offered for investment.

Learning the market, investment strategies, and new disruptive technologies, as well as how to communicate with angel investors, who do not necessarily have a scientific or engineering background, when seed money is required.

Exploration of trends in the field, using both quantitative and qualitative data, taking into consideration and analyzing both explicit and implicit behavioral patterns and knowledge expressed by the research participants.

Engineering professor

Change management processes and, in particular, people’s feelings in change situations (including coping with potential resistance).

Familiarity with current pedagogical approaches in STEM education and with plausible ways to design academic curricula meaningful for all parties involved: professors who teach, students who learn, and future employers.

Systematic analysis of pedagogical implications of the changes introduced as part of the change process.

STEM teacher, either in academia or in a high-school

Building a business plan which includes, among other things: budget and time management, team building that develops the new concept for the AP exam, connections with College Board (the organization that operates the AP exam program).

Consideration of teaching methods suitable for the new concept of the AP exam, design of a teacher training program that prepares the teacher to teach the new concepts introduced by the new AP exam (including the consideration of on-line and hybrid programs).

Research the development and assimilation process of the new AP exam, including learning and teaching process, and students’ and teachers’ attitudes towards the change.

Table 1: The expression of the MERge model in three careers

A glance at Table 1 is sufficient to observe how the MERge model is implemented in practice and to realize that practitioners in the STEM areas can increase their chances to succeed by being aware of the potential contribution of the application of a MERge perspective in general and of each of the three meta-professions in particular.

Application

Significant changes have recently taken place in higher education. Regarding the research role of academia, we are witness to new research areas, research methods, and research frameworks (e.g., multi-disciplinary, big-data driven, big budgets, partners and contributors who wish to see ROI). Regarding its educational role, we are witness to new developments related to learning and teaching styles and technologies (e.g., flipped classrooms, MOOCs - Massive, On-line, Open Courses). In this spirit of rethinking the role of higher education, it is proposed that the MERge model can be implemented in science and engineering institutions, at the undergraduate level and beyond, in several ways that aim to prepare both graduates and faculty to develop their professional career in a dynamic global environment.

First, in science and engineering undergraduate programs, introductory courses can be integrated in each of the three meta-professions encompassed by MERge. In order to highlight the mutual relationship between the three meta-professions – Management, Education and Research – undergraduate students can also be asked to develop an R&D project and to reflect on how they implement the three meta-professions during the project development process.

Second, the MERge model can be applied in the training of post-graduate students, for whom most often it is the Research component of MERge which is emphasized. In a similar spirit, the MERge model has direct implications for MBA programs, where often it is the Management component of MERge which is primarily emphasized, and for STEM teacher preparation programs, where the Education component of MERge is mainly addressed.

Beyond the graduate level, the MERge model can be used for professional development programs tailored for faculty members, whose expertise consists mainly of applied Research skills. For them, the Management and Education components of the MERge model may be useful in different ways, e.g., for the management of their research labs and supervision of graduate students.

And finally, the MERge model can be used in training programs designed for new deans. On the one hand, new deans, as experienced academics, have attained a great deal of Research experience, but, on the other hand, usually do not have previous Management and Education experience beyond the management of their own research lab team and teaching regular undergraduate and graduate courses. At the same time, in most cases, they all face many managerial challenges from their first day in office, especially if they wish to lead an organizational change. In this case, the MERge model can be applied in a mentoring framework.

Conclusion

In the postmodern era, where barriers between disciplines are falling in every aspect of our professional life, we need Managerial, Educational, and Research skills. The MERge pedagogical model proposes adopting this perspective in institutions of higher education in science and engineering at all levels, from undergraduate programs to deans. The ideas presented in this column will be further developed in future research, to be conducted together with Ronit Lis-Hacohen, that will investigate the actual application of the three meta-professions in science and engineering initiatives.