Learning from Failures: Using Historical Engineering Projects to Teach Better Professional Engineering Skills
The state of the art of engineering knowledge has historically often improved following reviews of major disasters and engineering failures. It is not desirable however for professional engineers to only improve their understanding and skills by "learning from their mistakes". A new final-year engineering course for Civil and Natural Resources Engineering students at the University of Canterbury aims to get students to learn more from other people’s past mistakes. A major component of this course is a group project where students investigate notable engineering "failures" from the past century and try to determine the causes behind them. As well as any direct technical reasons for each failure, students are challenged to identify the more "nontechnical" issues that contributed to the ultimate denouement, including human errors, ethical shortcomings, and regulatory omissions. Using this exercise, it is hoped that students will learn to recognise common "warning signs" in their future projects that may be pre-cursors to more catastrophic potential outcomes.