Over the past 10 years Professor Needham has tried to go beyond just "teaching at" students. Rather, he has developed a more "learning by", learner-centric pedagogy. He leads students and faculty through an experiential-based sequence of Experiment, Discover, Uncover principles with experts, leading to new Knowledge for the student (and more often than not, for the Professor!).  The pedagogy is called EDU-K, hence EDU-Kation, that is actually a cycle, and when repeated over and over again, becomes a spiral of ever-increasing Knowledge.  


This EDU-Kation pedagogy is used within a content framework of design, that teaches and allows the student, either alone or in a team with colleagues, to reverse engineer a problem that has already been solved, by scientists, engineers, or even nature.  Thus, we might ask, "What were the problems engineers solved, or pharmacists solved or physicists solved?"  For example, "How did engineers solve the ‘keep your food cold’ problem?" (with a refrigerator), and the class would reverse engineer the refrigerator, using the EDU-K cycle, in a structured formal framework of design methodology, and become familiar with and learn about thermodynamics in the real world.  Or "How did Nature Solve the ‘capture light and make an image’ problem?" and here we invoke hierarchical scales that match nature's organs, tissues, cells and molecules, by reverse engineering the eye, the rod cell, and the membrane-protein rhodopsin, at macro, micro and nano scales.  With the normal functioning system understood, we can then repeat this methodology by reverse engineering failure states for devices, or problems nature still has in disease, and here we might start with a genetically or epi-genetically defective protein or the degrading effect of a toxin or drug.  The failure of the protein is manifest by a failure in the cell and ultimately expressed as a clinical manifestation of the disease; similarly with defects in manufacturing or environmental degradation of machines or devices.  "Here's one example of how did nature solve the 'oxygen delivery' problem?" 

One startling result of students working through these methods and applying them to topics of interest to them, is that they are strongly motivated to engage in both fundamental understanding and the usefulness of applicatuons.  The process provides students with autonomy in choice of topics, they can build relatedness with the subject matter, peers, coaches and the real world, and develop competence in problem-solving skills, critical-thinking and, most importantly, they invent.  The reverse engineering process is an invention generator, where the now design-competent student (or faculty) has new ideas of their own, that are often well-formulated and technically sound, with the skills necessary to advance the idea through a “Forward Engineering” process.

Needham has over 400 examples of student’s reverse engineering designs from nature, thermodynamics, pharmaceutics, and materials science and engineering, and is currently bringing this EDU-Kation methods to SDU, and in particular to SPSE in courses and workshops that develop a knowledge of surface and colloid science one particle, or two particles, at a time. 

Interviews about the Future of Engineering Education
Professor David Needham, MEMS (interviewed by Roger Barr, Pofessor of Biomedical Engineering. Summer 2012):

Question 1 - Needham's thoughts about the future of engineering education (12 min 34 sec)


Question 2 - how are the faculty member's recorded videos useful to students? (7 min 10 sec)


Question 3 - how would prospective students and their parents react to these types of new approaches to teaching? (12 min 21 seconds)


Question 4 - description of Needham's Fall plans (5 min 29 seconds)