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 February 2006 Standards in Education
Stephen Brown is director of electrotechnical and external affairs at the Canadian Standards Association. He focuses on the management of strategic relationships, the identification of primary target markets and the development of new standards opportunities. Prior to joining CSA, Stephen successfully developed business strategies for major publishing and technology companies while teaching marketing at Ryerson University and Laurier University. He has also been a strategic executive with a number of high-tech organizations.

Teaching Tools of the Trade

Methods and Insights for a Standards in Education Initiative at the Canadian Standards Association

Standards have become well entrenched in business and government, but what about the educational sector? Do students in the world’s leading engineering schools understand and appreciate the role of standards in the work they are about to undertake? Perhaps not yet, but we are on the cusp of something big.

Standards in Education (SiE), an initiative of the Canadian Standards Association, is the catalyst to higher productivity and competitiveness, a public policy priority that no educational institution can afford to overlook. It is increasingly a prerequisite for engineering school accreditation and, as a whole, it presents a real opportunity for the standards community to engage the academic sector with meaningful solutions. What is called for is the strategic engagement of the right stakeholders in a collaborative process that will yield practical resources and real results.

While still in its infancy, here is the approach CSA is adopting for its SiE initiative.

Market Forces
As CSA begins to develop a comprehensive initiative around Standards in Education, it is evident that we face the difficult challenge of shifting a market mindset. A 2004 report by the Center for Global Standards Analysis, located at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., concluded that, based on its survey results, “standards education is not a priority among U.S. engineering schools,” a result one might expect to find in many global markets. However, in Canada we have discovered that the more engaged the academic community, the more support for SiE is uncovered at all levels — among university deans, professors, teachers, researchers, our members, and of course among industry representatives. Many wish to see Standards in Education evolve into a significant part of the learning experience. The underlying basis for this is the following:

• SiE will work to increase the capabilities and competencies of our engineers by exposing them to standards development and application much earlier in their professional careers, and
• The integration of standards into engineering curricula is regarded as fundamental to enhancing Canada’s competitiveness.

To facilitate the increased acceptance and adoption of CSA’s program, a focus has been placed on garnering support and agreement in both academic and professional circles. Over the past two years, CSA has engaged key stakeholders at critical junctures — the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board, the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, the Council of Ontario Deans of Engineering, the Professional Engineers of Ontario, the Standards Council of Canada, and professors already teaching standards. Additionally, we are currently working with two top Canadian universities to develop pilot programs. Although the foundation for our program is still being constructed, we are pleased with the positive response received to date. This same support will be instrumental in the adoption of our program as we move forward.

CSA’s Strategy For SiE
The Canadian Standards Association SiE strategy is centered on increasing standards knowledge and use. In order to meet anticipated amendments for engineering accreditation, we are working with academic institutions to implement a program that integrates standards into curricula.

Our program concentrates on adding value. As standards bodies worldwide take increased interest in building solutions for SiE, the potential for duplication is high. The tools CSA is creating are aimed at leveraging offerings already developed and/ or adding value to those that are emerging. This is not to say that we will not build our own tutorials, case studies and the like, but merely that we anticipate working with other SDOs, supplementing offerings rather than reinventing them.

CSA’s program is positioned as a collaborative effort. We emphasize to educators that CSA is working with them as a solutions partner, not as a typical standards supplier. The goal is to work in tandem to build offerings that satisfy academic and educational needs.

The program is designed to be flexible and customizable to meet different requirements. The Canadian education landscape — smaller and less fragmented than the U.S. market — offers a significant opportunity to engage schools in one-on-one pilot program development. This exposure enables us to better understand the needs and perspectives of the entire sector — assessing such things as SiE program acceptance, useful teaching tools, curriculum goals, and even preferred implementation methods. The knowledge gained will be applied to enhancing overall program performance and delivering best practices and benefits.

The program leverages technology — digital media, emerging information channels, access — accommodating the ways in which students learn in the new media environment.

The final requirement is that the program should be self-sustaining. The preferred model is not based on grants alone, but on a mix of diverse funding sources, including grants, partnerships with industry, investment from the schools themselves and program-generated revenue.

Applying What We Are Learning
The biggest challenge we have faced to date has been having people see and understand the Standards in Education vision. Talk around standards in education is often ethereal, and for good reason — it is only now that we are beginning to bring concept to reality and create tangible offerings. In doing so, we have gained important insights that we will apply as we move forward.

It is essential that the underlying strategy be well grounded and exceptionally dynamic. Within CSA, our SiE strategy continues to evolve as we further understand the needs of the market and tie them back to the proposed deliverables.

Standards in Education is an important initiative. The programs under development will impact generations to come. CSA’s vision for Standards in Education is the creation of tools and services that meet the needs of the end-users — offerings that increase standards knowledge and awareness, facilitate innovation in the teaching of standards, and ultimately expand into academic areas beyond engineering. Our goal is to ensure that SiE offerings work in tandem with the pragmatism inherent in educational content and delivery. The result must provide value to the professors and students, making teaching and learning more effective.

It is difficult to know how successful any of the proposed SiE solutions will be — if only because few precedents exist. For a program such as this, one can only do the homework as thoroughly as possible and then build against the findings. A key focus is creating a program that is easily integrated with the school curriculum. In this regard, we are pleased to be working collaboratively with ASTM International to move Standards in Education concepts forward, along with the American National Standards Institute, the International Electrotechnical Commission, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the Standards Council of Canada and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This cooperation is important in ensuring that our program is effective in addressing the needs of our education sector as comprehensively as possible.

At CSA, we are anxious to make the breakthrough and deliver value to our future professionals and to the academic community that guides them. //

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