Art&Engr CONVERSATIONS WITH DAD A PICTURE BOOK EXPLORING PARALLELS IN ART AND ENGINEERING EDUCATION
KATHRYN F. LALLEMENT
This is Me: Kate
My name is Kathryn F. Lallement. I am busily working towards my Masters Degree in Art Education through the University of Floridaâ€™s Online Degree program. Pictured in the background, is my husband and daughter supporting my endeavors.
This is my Dad: Dr. Dennis J. Fallon
This is my dad, Dr. Dennis J. Fallon. He carries the title of Distinguished Professor of Engineering Education at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. â€¨
Beginnings: Here We Are
I am an artist and an art educator. My dad, heâ€™s a professor in Engineering. Most people would think these two fields of inquiry and professional practice operate on very different spectrums.
Dad and I live close by and see each other every week. With both of us being teachers we often talk about education in our different fields of study.
My dad and I have noticed, that there are a lot of parallels between the visual arts and engineering. Together, through our conversations, we decided to further pursue the benefits both disciplines can bring to one another. We had some help from two of his colleagues Drs. Keith Plemmons and John Murden.
My Conversations with Dad
This became the bases of my masters degree capstone research project at the University of Florida. My first, simple and straight-forward question was... â€œHow are the fields of Visual Arts and Engineering connected?â€?
Dad: Representations in Art&Engr
My dad thinks that the visual arts and engineering are connected at many levels. The first on has to do with the obvious... both lead to some form of a drawing or sketch. In addition, both try to represent the physical world in some form. They also rely on the creative process and highly depend on the skills of observation.
Dr. Plemmons: Visual Documentation
Dr. Plemmons observes that the visual arts provide a means for documenting transitions and â€œlandmarksâ€? during the problem solving process. This visual documentation allows engineers to consult with industrial designers and contractors to trouble-shoot and communicate when problems arise.
Dr. Murden: Observation Skills
Dr. Murden notices key observations skills in both engineering and art skills. These fundamental skills facilitate in construction, interpretation, innovation, and presentation of plans and information.
Insights from my Literature Review
From my readings, I surmise that creativity, sketching, visualization, model-making, design thinking, and exploring spatial relationships are fundamental to the visual arts and aid in the work of engineers.
Dr. Joakim Juhl: Engineering is an Art... Dr Joakim Juhl is a Postdoctoral Fellow at The Program on Science, Technology & Society (STS) at Harvard University. His position is a joint position between Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He authored “Representations and Visual Synthesis in Engineering” in the Journal of Engineering Education in January 2013. This scholarly article was inspiring so I found Dr. Juhl’s email address and wrote him inquiring about his research. Dr. Juhl’s response was quick and supportive to my research. He wrote, “Engineering is also an art as art is also a kind of engineering. Modern discipline thinking tends to make us think as if discipline boundaries were essential. They are not, they are constructed and reconstructed all the time.”
Second Research Question
My research also concerned a second question... â€œHow and why should engineering programs teach design oriented, art-based, creative, and critical thinking skills to engineering students?â€?
Dad: Project Based Learning
My dad thinks that the basic engineering curriculum does not do a good job of teaching creative and critical thinking. For dad, much work needs to be done in this area. In his program, faculty members are trying to use project based learning in attempt to give students freedom in the design of projects. In spite of this, he feels this does not work because of the difficulty of adding one more thing to an already overcrowded curriculum. He adds that the basic engineering curriculum short of introducing technology has not changed for decades. It is based on an industrial model that just does not engage in the creative process.
My Findings: Visual Arts Skills in Engineering
Currently, engineering programs of study have engineering professors teaching particular kinds of artistic skills to students. Art and design faculty are trained to develop their respective fields and could collaborate with engineering professors to develop these skills in students.
Third Research Question
My third question was was my original Capstone research question and more of a speculative nature... â€œHow can the inclusion of art and design skills and inquiry processes and practices benefit engineering learning?â€?
Dad: The Engineering Curriculum
Dad feels the answer lies with, project based learning. Unfortunately, short of that there has not been much effort to integrate creativity. Problem solving skills are in fact not well incorporated.Â Dad knows that interestingly many people believe that engineers work numerous problems.Â He explains, however if you define a problem as a deviation from a norm requiring critical and creative thinking-the engineering curriculum has not advance far from the time since he began studying engineering over forty years ago.
Insights from my Literature Review
My literature review supports my dadâ€™s insights of project based learning and the value of including art and design skills in inquiry processes in engineering schools. Several scholars in my literature review noted that art and design based creative learning, associated with project based learning, introduce rich, real-life professional experiences to the engineering classroom.
Dr. John Murden: Visualization & Analysis
Dr. Murden states that the biggest benefits to Engineering via Art Education are to help students with visualizing problems in a way that they can take problems apart and analyze the bits and pieces. When engineering students get to design, artistic skills would be helpful in expanding options by learning to see things in different ways.
Dr. Plemmons: Connections
Dr. Plemmons notes that the visual arts helps people connect with the world around them. In Engineering, the visual arts can help people see the big picture.
Dr. Juhl: “Good” Engineering Further in a personal email that I had with Dr. Juhl he writes about his thoughts on “Good” Engineering as...”not just about getting calculations right” He continued to state that creativity, asking the right questions, and the ability to work across boundries are far more important but mostly left out as engineering curricular turns more “scientific”. He advocates a synthesis between fields-and challenges how existing fields such as arts and engineering concieve problems in order to develop new sensitivities that are more adapt to make the world a better place (and the potential careers the students may encounter after school).
Fourth Research Question
As the study progressed, it seemed important to add a fourth question... â€œWhat can engineering learning bring to art education?â€?
When I talked this over with dad he noticed the importance of application in engineering, â€œApplying knowledge and skills to a specific problem in a systematic way is fundamental to Engineering. These systematic and purpose procedures might be adapted in the visual artsâ€?. Â
Dr. Plemmons: Methodology and Processes
Dr. Plemmons had the same thoughts as dad when looking at how Engineering can benefit the Visual Arts. He believes that Engineering can aid visual arts students through structure and methodology.
Dad's Final Thoughts
Dad sees engineering attempting to model the physical world by the use of equations, formulas and drawing.Â He sees visual arts attempting to do the same thing. He perceives the visual arts and engineering as both producing a product used by people.Â In case of engineering for the improvement of the quality of life.Â Whereas in the case of visual arts to improve the reason for living. When asked about the future, Dad states that he feels the biggest global problem we are facing (yes, now) are climate change, sanitation, and the availability of drinking water. His thought is the engineers of the future will need to put their arms around these two issues.
Dadâ€™s Final Thoughts: The Future
Dad says with regards to creativity and innovation, the engineers that will tackle such problems will need to be both convergent and divergent thinkers. The future leaders in the field of engineering will need to be both technically good and be an innovator. He believes, to be innovative, an engineer cannot be just a â€œformula cruncherâ€?. Dad sees engineering students who study the visual arts skills as being capable of being those future innovative engineers.
Final Thoughts: My Turn
I started this research in art and engineering from simple conversations with my dad to corroborate just how valuable art can be to engineering. What I have learned is engineering is not just the scientific and analytical field that is perceived to be. In fact it very creative, artistic, and in some cases misperceived as only methodical and analytical. I also believe through these conversations, that perhaps my dad no longer carries the misconceptions he held about application and processes in the Visual Arts. Moreover, seeing the Visual Art as not that different from Engineering.
Final Thoughts: My Turn (Part II )
These close relationships found in Engineering and in Visual Arts suggests a need to better integrate art and design thinking skills and design practices in engineering learning. I would argue it would be necessary to reconceptualize the engineering undergraduate curriculum to integrate these skills and practices so that they may benefit innovation, observation, and creativity in future Engineering.