A few weeks ago (7 eons in internet time...) I posted on Engineer Blogs a snippet of ideas for how I would change the mechanical engineering curriculum. This mainly focused around one thing: have all ME required courses taught by ME faculty. It's pretty simple. If you're a ME student, you probably have ~120 hours of ME degree courses that you need to take. If they're all not taught by ME faculty, you're getting shafted in your education. That's just my opinion. However, it seemed from the initial comments that there's bunch of people that would like that.
In my original post, I picked on a few non-ME courses that I would like to see changed. Today, I'm going to specifically discuss the Mathematics and Statistics curriculum parts of a typical ME program and how I'd like to change them. I realize I'm totally biased and haven't had a good math teacher in college but I'm also going to assume I'm not alone in this boat.
The biggest reason for swapping math profs for ME profs is the application of the math. When you're in a math class (even math for engineers) it's always math for the sake of math. I took a graduate math course called "Advanced Applied Engineering Mathematics". There was never any actual applying of the math. Engineers don't care about math just because it's math. They want to use it. If you don't have examples of it, you're talking to zombies. Math prof's don't give practical examples. However, ME profs can.
This brings me to the second biggest reason for changing profs. Math profs want to teach math students who think like them and approach problems like them. ME profs want to teach to ME students who think like them and approach problems like them. It's pretty simple and basic but it doesn't make sense. And ME profs are as qualified (if not more qualified) to teach engineering math courses because they use it on a regular basis.
Most universities have the math courses front-loaded before the ME courses. A better approach is to actually teach the math in the same course where it's applied. I'll give you an example. One of the basic things about derivatives (and 2nd derivatives) and integrals is the relationship between position, velocity, and acceleration. I don't ever remember hearing those three words in my basic calc classes. That's a shame. Probably these concept should be taught as part of the basic physics course.
Now, rather than rant forever, I'll try to discuss some constructive things. I'm going to assume a student needs the following math courses (some universities may vary)
For Calc I and II, I'd combine those into one course called Engineering Calc. I would keep derivatives, integrals (only shorthand methods), partial derivatives, equations of motion, and complex numbers/conjugates. Everything else, deep six it. You're not going to remember it anyway and if you need it later, you can learn it later. Also, I would hack down Calc III and Linear Algebra and combine them into one class called Multivariable Calc. You can only take some much of vectors intercepting a plane is space for so long before you kill yourself. And when you're talking about multi-variable problems, it probably good to introduce some matrices.
Statistics, I would kill completely. Totally useless course except for the first 2 concepts you learn about standard deviations and distributions. Everything else in the course was of the theory of statistics persuasion which is useless for UG engineers. Instead, I would tack that on to a lab course. I'll go back over this when I talk about chemistry.
Lastly, Diff Eq. Wow, words cannot begin to express how much I disliked Diff Eq. However, it is needed for Fluids, Vibrations, and Heat Transfer so it has to stay. It depends on how the curriculum is set up, but I think most students take this during their Sophomore year. Instead, I would pick whichever class needs it and shows up first (say Fluids) and have it co-taught with that class. This way, you'd take 6 hours of Diff Eq and Fluids but the profs would have to work in tandem. I know it's tough but we're trying to get the students to learn more useful information.
I think the math curriculum can be trimmed from 18 hours to 9 hours with some supplemental stuff added to a few courses. That frees a lot of space for other courses. I'm slowly building to my complete Fantasy Curriculum. Over the next few days, I'll tackle some more subjects. Thoughts on my assault on math?