Preparing the Next Generation

Theodore A. Steinberg

The Case for Standards in the Classroom

It is vitally important, for many reasons, that students are introduced to international standards that are relevant to their disciplines during their time at university. These standards often contain specific knowledge of an applied nature that prospective employers want students to be aware of. They are written and maintained by experts recognized in their fields and contain their considerable experience and combined wisdom on the subject matter addressed by the standard. If these standards are directly relevant to the students' chosen disciplines, their inclusion in appropriate places in the curriculum is highly beneficial.

The wealth of information contained in these standards will be of use to students throughout their careers - aiding them as they study their new professions, gain employment and, as their careers progress, when they join professional associations and societies to contribute to standards development. As a result, teaching standards at university offers one of the best ways to establish context for what young people's work will mean, in a broader sense, to society.

The Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, where I teach, prides itself on being "a university for the real world." In this real world, a significant portion of the work that engineers and scientists perform is the focus of numerous international standards and is often required by government bodies to meet these standards. That is why a familiarity with relevant standards is often a great enhancement to the learning process for students. Introducing standards into the curriculum directly demonstrates the application of the theory being taught in areas that benefit society and the public in general.

For example, in the field in which I teach, we might introduce an ASTM International standard from Committee G04 on Flammability and Sensitivity of Materials in Oxygen Enriched Atmospheres in a unit covering combustion, materials compatibility or fire safety. This is useful for students because it allows them to see the direct link between some of the theoretical concepts of this course to real, industrially relevant, situations. It also allows educators to provide guidance on the safe design and operation of oxidizer systems that students may encounter in the real world, as legislative bodies often require that these standards are met.

After a number of years using this approach, I have found that it provides students with a good perspective on how their education will be utilized to protect the health and well-being of the general population. Furthermore, students who are exposed to ASTM standards frequently contribute to ASTM symposia (and the resulting publications). This early exposure to an international standards developer and the peer review publication process is often a great incentive to students to join standards developing organizations while still at university. Such involvement often leads to ongoing (or new) memberships when they enter the work force and creates a new generation of individuals who are up-to-date and knowledgeable, who can contribute to training materials and who will provide input for new and revised standards.

This type of educational process, one that is guided and aided by professors who incorporate important international standards, is clearly of significant benefit to students as they begin their careers, seek employment and apply their knowledge to the solution of important problems as practicing engineers and scientists.

Theodore Steinberg, Ph.D., is a professor at the School of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering at the Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. He is the 2011 recipient of the ASTM International Professor of the Year Award for promoting the use, utility and value of ASTM standards in the classroom.

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