Rated "E" for Excellent
Did we just enter a golden age for engineering videos? Between the winning videos in the National Academy of Engineering’s “Engineering for You” contest and those featured in ExxonMobil’s “Be an Engineer” campaign, an embarrassment of video riches is all of a sudden available for use in engineering outreach activities.
You need to be putting these great productions to work. They are, by turns, thoughtful, beautiful, affecting, informative, and all highly watchable. If engineering has suffered from a low Q score in the public mind, these videos make a strong claim on people’s attention and good favor.
TV, or Not TV
When I started on work related to public attitudes about engineering about 15 years ago, you heard a lot of wishes for a TV show about engineering. It was thought the glossy allure of engineering as glamorized on the small screen would win hearts and move minds, raising the field to levels of respect and interest occupied by doctors, lawyers, public safety personnel, and the odd (sic) journalist. “True Engineer,” perhaps? Umpteen-many reality shows later, maybe we should be glad no TV production has trained its eye on engineering. Do you really want to see, say, “Naked Engineer”?
Engineering at the Movies
Engineering’s done better at the movies. Everyone’s favorite engineering movie, Apollo 13, makes an epic subplot out of fitting a square peg into a round hole, as NASA engineers on the ground scramble to cobble square filters and tubular receptacles into a carbon dioxide filter that can make the air breathable again in Tom Hanks’s damaged lunar module. To start the movie debates with your engineering cinephile friends, check out these lists at Engineering.com, IMDb, and EngineerJobs.com, among many others.
But Go with Videos
Engineering videos offer uniquely useful, fun features. An outreach event won’t typically allow two hours for a full-length feature, and copyright holders frown on uncompensated dissemination of their work. Videos are short, easy to access, and freely available for varied uses.
And with all video content moving inevitably to the Internet (see CBS, HBO, etc.,) Engineering’s best foot is already being put forward online. We found a bounty of engaging, entertaining, and informative videos about engineering, suitable for whatever kind of audience you’re trying to reach. The selection methodology was rigorous, often featuring my four-year-old twins sitting on my lap, giving the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the videos playing on the computer screen in front of us. We’ll go to the mat for the proposition that all these videos offer something memorable or meaningful for at least some element of the K-12 student/parent/teacher outreach triad.
A Category of Their Own, ExxonMobil and the NAE
- The “Be an Engineer” campaign is, at one level, a set of TV ads, to be sure, but the website as a whole offers much more – a dazzling panoply of pictures—moving and still—quotations, vignettes, field resources, success stories and profiles, and general information about engineering. It has all the staple pieces of a comprehensive outreach effort, just done better, in the way only a huge budget can.
- The “Engineering for You” videos show what is possible at the other end of the budget spectrum. A contest to create a short video showing how engineering has benefited the world over the last 50 years, "E4U" paid cash prizes for “Best Overall” and several other categories. Created, it seems, by just plain folks, the videos are marvels of craft and passion, often quirky and personal, gripping across the board.
What Is Engineering?
- The Engineering Design Process – Part of the awesome MITK12 video series, this video walks through the design process, step by step, as host Josh Ramos solves the problem of how to practice volleyball when you have nobody to play with. Fun, quick-hitting, accessible.
- Why Study Engineering? – An item in a YouTube playlist posted by the somewhat mysterious “EngineeringYeah,” this video is the Hollywood, big-business answer to the title question. An action-movie soundtrack, footage from engineering activities all over the world, talking CEO-heads from Intel, IBM, Intel exhorting viewers to the cause, it’s the James Cameron approach. No dig intended – Titanic and The Terminator killed, in all kinds of ways.
- What Is Engineering? – My personal favorite, from the University of Newcastle in Australia. Under a woman’s voice, on top of a mechanical drawing grid, a hand in fast motion draws in black marker a sequence of storyboards exploring the myriad ways engineering shapes our world. Dryly humorous, easy to understand, scored nicely, it highlights the engineering in mobile phones, airplanes, toothpaste, and the Burj Khalifa, among much else. And the narrator’s accent is winning.
- Engineers Can Change the World – An emphasis on cars, planes, buildings, and rockets locates this one on the fanboy end of the engineering video spectrum, though biomedical and environmental fields show up late. The production value is high, and text on screen describing engineers’ sense of possibility and ambition, aside from some bad grammar, works well.
Great Feats of Engineering
- Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century – A treatment of the NAE’s list from the “Great Achievements” project, this video is straight-forward and comprehensive, a good way to show the breadth of impact engineering had on the last century. Maybe a bit plodding and monotone, it does effectively cover lots of material: electrification, water supply and dissemination, the automobile and airplane, refrigeration, electronics, etc.
- 25 of Mankind’s Greatest Engineering Achievements – Reaching far back in history, this list from CNN International shows up in several homemade video efforts. This version trots through the list at a pace that requires pausing to read the text and take in the still images. But it’s a great list, ranging from the Palm islands in Dubai to a Roman aqueduct in Segovia to Teotihuacan to the International Space Station.
- Kelvin Doe Wows MIT – A teen engineering prodigy from Sierra Leone, Kelvin Doe, a.k.a. “DJ Focus,” hosts a radio show in his hometown, promoting community empowerment. On a radio station he built himself. Out of scrap metal, trash items, and repurposed electronics equipment. On his three-week visit to Cambridge, Doe frequents the MIT Media Lab, meets the president of Harvard University, and generally charms everyone he meets. His host, David Sengeh, an MIT grad student also from Sierra Leone, does a star turn in his own right.
- Debbie Sterling at TEDxPSU – The GoldieBlox founder recounts her challenges as a woman engineer at Stanford, at the New York Toy Fair, and among other entrepreneurs. Built around the theme, “I do not fit in,” her story leads to a vision of the future where she and all other girls interested in engineering do in fact fit in.
- Thomas Suarez – How many 12-year-olds could open their TED talks saying, “I’ve always had a fascination for computers and technology, and I made a few apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad?" His big hit, a holiday release in 2010, was Bustin Jeiber, an iteration of the whack-a-mole concept cross-pollinated by animus towards a certain Canadian pop singer.
- SEEK Denver 2014 – The National Society of Black Engineers is crushing it with their Summer Engineering Experience for Kids program, having expanded from four to 13 sites in the last session. This video shows highlights from the Denver camp, where the volume of smiles, cheers, and laughter had to be enough to have powered the city for a whole week.
- Engineering Projects for the Kids – My kids’ favorite video, this one shows boys and girls having. a. ball. with crash-test cars, slingshot rockets, PVC building, truss bridges, and – the one that really cracked them up – hydraulic judobots. Good times.
- Next Generation Pioneer Mike Wierusz – From the Washington STEM hub, this is inspired classroom fun and learning from award-winning high school teacher Mike Wierusz. Voluminous student testimonials underscore the winning formula Wierusz brings to teaching, which is imaginatively multi-disciplinary in its approach to making engineering come alive.
- High School Engineering – The Engineering Academy in Hoover, AL, is a ground-breaking effort in high school engineering. Director Mark Conner, a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, has fashioned a comprehensive curriculum that is engaging and substantive, sending scores of graduates into fancy engineering schools and careers. Hear his thoughts here, along with Kenneth Williams, a Maryland high school technology teacher, on the future of high school engineering.
- ASEE K-12 Award Winners – At the ASEE Annual Conference, an all-star panel of high school engineering contest winners describe their prize-winning projects and their enthusiasm for the work that went into them. Great for showing real-world examples of high school kids carrying out sophisticated engineering work and getting recognized for it.
There’s a chance we’ve missed some other good videos out there. What have you found in this vein? When the prime-time awards show for engineering videos launches, what do you think the prizes should be called? Comments and suggestions welcome.