Teach to Where the Puck Will Be

By Darrel G. Fontane

The title for this tip comes from, The Future of Engineering Education, an article by Dr. Wayne Clough, President of Georgia Institute of Technology in which he states: “To paraphrase the great philosopher Wayne Gretsky, if we skate to where the puck is now, we will be too late. We need to skate to where the puck will be.”

If you teach in a freshman course, you are preparing students who will enter the engineering profession four to five years from now. What will the profession be like at that time and what will our students need to know to be able to work in that future? This is a good question and one worthy of reflection.

Why not reflect upon how the material you are teaching in a specific course this semester will relate to where you think the engineering practice will be five years from now. Then develop a lecture or a portion of a lecture describing how the material in the course will help address that future. Perhaps you can develop a homework problem to illustrate how an anticipated future issue might be analyzed.

Another option is to ask your students to research the future of their specific discipline and suggest one or two emerging trends they find. You might compile these for the entire class. Any of these options will help our students better understand the need for reflection, anticipation and flexibility, that is, we will be helping them learn to anticipate where the puck might be.

Referencing the Rip Van Winkle allegory symbolizing the incredible pace of change wrought by the industrial revolution, Dr. Clough identifies four agents of change that will keep the field of engineering education from snoozing in the midst of today’s even faster paced technology revolution. Those four agents are:

  1. Building innovative interdisciplinary approaches to the issues and problems society expects universities, and their graduates, to help address, manage, improve upon, or simply, fix.
  2. Moving engineering faculty and educational processes outside traditional disciplinary restraints, both in research and curriculum, to engage business, policy, and science colleagues in creating the skill sets of the future. This should include a sustainability perspective through which all engineering students may view the impact of their decisions, particularly as they relate to the natural environment.
  3. Embracing information technology, not just for the new economic ventures it generates, but also for its influence on the way engineers do business and, more importantly perhaps, to shape the future of teaching and learning. It has the power to both free up faculty time for increased interaction with students, and to create greater access to information while improving the learning process.
  4. Instilling in our students an understanding of what it means to practice engineering, the essence of which is the ability to compromise within time constraints, define problems rather than being handed them, deal with political pressure, and have an appreciation of ethics and an understanding of one’s civic obligation.

Even though it appears to be several years old, I encourage everyone to read Dr. Clough’s article. Its fairly brief and his key points about the future of engineering education are just as relevant today. The entire article can be found online at: http://gtalumni.org/Publications/magazine/win00/future.html


Clough, Wayne. The Future of Engineering. Retrieved June 28, 2007, from http://gtalumni.org/Publications/magazine/win00/future.html