Introductory Engineering Course in Azraq refugee camp and Next Steps
DeBoer Lab launched the Introductory Engineering Design Course in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan in mid-April 2017. Azraq hosts the second largest refugee community in Jordan, representing a total of 40,846 people of concern from Syria. The Introductory Engineering Course in the Azraq camp was designed as an opportunity for students continuing to access HE coursework to gain relevant skills. It covered technical concepts in electronics and programming and professional engineering skills, such as teamwork, analytical skills, communication, and engineering thinking. These areas were supported under an umbrella of engineering design.
The central goal of this course is to enable learners of the Azraq Community to learn engineering skills, problem-solving processes, and professional skills and then apply these tools to local development challenges. This course provides some didactic content (some developed by our team and some tailored from open educational resources), but it does not provide direct answers to simulated problems. Instead, it equips learners with engineering tools to apply to the world around them and find application to concrete local problems.
Learners work together face-to-face, in a learning lab run by local facilitators, engaging frequently with the course materials (videos, readings, and short quizzes) online and receiving feedback and support from the instructional team via WhatsApp. The learners gain engineering competencies (design process, “engineering thinking”, modelling and problem-solving) and technical skills (Arduino, programming), applied to a problem context (solar energy and power provision/application), with overarching professional skills (leadership, teamwork, technical and general communication). Learner groups are led by one of their members, and each group’s final assignment is a unique, locally-applicable solution prototype.
Our experience working in refugee settings over the last years revealed that marginalized and displaced people need an immediate solution to their social problem, and education is recognized as a powerful tool to transform communities (UNESCO). Therefore, we are planning to launch a third course in the Azraq camp in 2019 as our first EngBOX hardware pilot study. EngBOX emerged as a set of lessons learning and theory-driven findings from our previous courses in refugee camps, that allowed us to provide a contextually aligned tool to be used in these fragile settings and foster community development. Additionally, NGOs, schools, and research institutions are interested in using our curriculum approach, receive faculty training, and launch our engineering education model in different countries. In 2019, our team will initiate a few workshops to confirm basic assumptions around the capabilities of engineering in developing communities.
The next stage of the project will see an expansion to small schools in Brazil, where professors are engaged in using education for social transformation. According to Fernando Loureiro, one of the professors interested in receiving instructional training, he said that our project could help him to advance his course and help more kids to learn engineering skills:
“At our school, we want to democratize education by offering different sort of classes at very low-cost for students living in marginalized places in our city. Today, we offer engineering classes, programming, electronics, English, and science. By using EngBOX and receiving instructional training, I could improve my classes and help students with meaningful and useful projects while they learn. Besides that, I could receive training to improve my teaching skills and help students to achieve their goals.
Fernando’s school is based in Belem, Brazil. Today, there are 600 students learning English, 208 learning programming, and 208 learning robotics. He expects to increase this number, but also improve the quality and impact of his classroom to more bring high-quality education for more disadvantaged students.
Brazil is a vast country, but its social reality is different across the country. While a few cities have a good infrastructure and quality of life, many others experience a lack of electricity, poor water quality, low food security and low-quality education. In light of this problem, Brehme Mesquita, an engineering professor in Maranhao, is ready to help his community by bringing the same higher-education quality programs taught at a public university, to marginalised people living in regions considered the second most miserable state in the whole country. Brehme coordinates a group of students engaged in robotics in his engineering department at the college, and he is interested in transferring this expertise to low-income places where students better education quality and professional capability.