Prof. dr. Ami Moyal is chairman of Afeka – Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering.
With technological advancements at an exponential rate, the effects on the labor market have been profound, especially in STEM-oriented occupations where there is an increasing emphasis on personal skills. To stay relevant in our mission to train human capital in a world where current knowledge has become so fluid, it is imperative that academic institutions adjust learning outcomes and adapt the educational process as a whole. This can be done by first defining the desired ‘output’ of the educational process and only then looking at how the educational process itself needs to change in order to achieve this result.
What exactly does this mean? At Afeka, Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering, we refer to this output as our ‘graduate profile’: the set of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required for a graduating engineer when he takes up employment. Crucially, defining this profile involves first understanding the needs of the industry and only then adapting the educational process to ultimately train graduates equipped with all the knowledge and, just as importantly, the skills expected of engineers in the modern workforce.
While engineering schools around the world have led changes at various levels, it has now become essential for institutions to embrace a paradigm shift. From what I’ve seen, most institutions have not taken it upon themselves to define a profile for graduates before making changes to the educational process they offer students – and this has important implications for the way the industry, the faculty, applicants, and the general public see the relevance and willingness of engineering graduates to meet the industry’s current needs. This results in a skills gap that often leads to junior graduate engineers struggling to secure their first job.
To more effectively meet the changing needs of the industry, technical education is undergoing a transformation. At Afeka, we’ve made a change in the engineering education we provide to our students by applying the same engineering design methodology used in the high-tech industry to develop products. This unique implementation of a well-known methodology involved defining the qualities of the final “product” or “output” of our educational process – our graduates – before modifying the process itself.
The key principles of engineering design – ask, propose, plan, create, experiment and improve – guided our journey.
• We started by formulating the problem. The profile of a new engineer, as required by the industry, or in other words, the “output” of the educational process, has changed due to changing industry needs. But with a new generation of students learning differently, the “input” in the process has also changed. This can only mean that the process itself has to change in order to remain relevant.
• We then surveyed Israeli high-tech companies to determine exactly which skills they value most in new engineers. This highlighted four key skills: multidisciplinary teamwork, effective communication, self-learning and critical thinking.
• Taking all the findings into account, we then defined our graduation profile with scientific and technical knowledge, personal skills, technical skills, languages, ethics and broad knowledge.
• We divided each skill in the graduate profile into three acquisition levels (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and then included them as learning outcomes in our courses. This resulted in a continuous learning process in which students acquire the skills.
• Finally, to help achieve these learning outcomes, we have created change-inducing platforms that support the adaptation of relevant pedagogy within the classroom and encourage the formation of extracurricular activities outside the classroom. We have also created new learning, teaching and working environments that enable these changes.
Currently, at Afeka, we are focused on finding skills assessment tools in a robust and scalable way so that students’ skill levels can be measured after each course, each semester, and each year – and in the future, possibly as an additional eligibility criteria for new university candidates.
This unique methodology enabled us to transform our students’ educational process with the goal of producing graduates equipped to thrive in the modern workforce.
I think what we have learned from this process can help other academic institutions interested in transforming their own educational processes.
• First of all, try to understand the importance of defining an engineering profile as a commonly agreed goal by all internal stakeholders to serve as a compass. The process of defining the graduation profile together with the relevant management team leads to a commitment from all involved to achieve the desired results. But this is not enough: the entire organization has to participate in the process. For this to happen, it is crucial to establish communities based on mutual interests. Communities around shared activities and goals provide platforms for exchanging ideas and sharing different approaches to dealing with the change process, both on a personal and organizational level.
• Internal communication is also an important tool in promoting change. Constant communication on the part of the administration, along with clear and consistent interdepartmental and interdepartmental reporting and sharing of successes help to engage teachers and staff and encourage internal initiatives that align with the goals of the change process.
• External collaboration is also a must. Higher education is only one link on the education continuum. Forming an ecosystem that promotes ongoing dialogue and collaboration between all links – from pre-primary education to tertiary and higher education, through to industrial employment – is the foundation for a coherent lifelong learning process that improves output at every link and serves purposes.
• Finally, it is important to keep in mind that this type of system change takes years to implement and a continuous joint learning process. Encouraging trial and error and embracing failure as part of this learning process will lead to faster and better results in the long run – ultimately enabling technical education and higher education as a whole to fulfill its essential objective. to meet the needs of the industry.