A review of “Undergraduate Engineering Curriculum: The Ultimate Design Challege”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD
CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In a recent National Academy of Engineering piece, Susan A. Ambrose (2013) argues that engineering education has made significant changes to individual curricula, but says “It is time to move beyond tweaking individual courses or revamping one year of the curriculum. We need to be audacious enough to put the pieces together in a coherent, encompassing way across engineering curricula” (p. 22). One of the pieces to this puzzle, is providing students with “opportunities for reflection to connect thinking and doing” (p. 17).

In arguing about the importance of reflection in engineering curricula, she emphasizes  the role reflection plays in help students connect thinking and doing:

“When students engage in meaningful and frequent reflection about what they are learning, they are less likely to ‘have the experience but miss the meaning,’ because reflection provides a ‘continual  interweaving of thinking and doing’ (Schön 1983, p. 280). It  generates, deepens, and documents learning (Ash and Clayton
2004). In fact, studies show that students who ‘repeatedly engage in structured reflection…are more likely to bring a strategic learning  orientation to new challenges’ (Eyler 2009, p. 28; Eyler and Giles 1999), reinforcing the end goal of learning as the ability to use knowledge and skills flexibly in novel situations” (p19).

After emphasizing the value of reflection in engineering education, she presents one mechanism for supporting student reflection–reflective writing, specifically “writing to learn” and embedding “writing across the curriculum. She provides the example of e-portfolios as an opportunity for students to reflect on their learning and performance.

In concluding the section about reflection she says,

“So, yes, students learn by doing, but only when they have time to reflect on what they are doing—the two go hand in hand. Why, then, don’t engineering curricula provide constant structured opportunities and time to ensure that continual reflection takes place” (p. 20)?

In concluding, she calls the community to action. We need  to coordinate and continually support the areas of learning she mentions.


Ambrose, S. A. (2013). Undergraduate engineering curriculum: The ultimate design challenge. The Bridge: Linking Engineering and Society, 43(2), 16-23.

Ash S.L. & Clayton P.H. 2004. The articulated learning: An
approach to reflection and assessment. Innovative Higher
Education, 29, 137–154.

Eyler J. 2009. The power of experiential education. Liberal
Education, 95(4), 24–31.

Eyler J., Giles DE. 1999. Where’s the Learning in Service-
Learning? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schön D. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic