There are many terms in currency around the education world which display ambiguity of meaning. This is an attempt to define a vocabulary which clarifies at least what is meant when we use a word or phrase of jargon in the context of engineering education.  The following list is alphabetical: no further significance is intended by the order of terms.


There is a world-wide movement entitled Conceive, Design, Implement and Operate (CDIO, see devoted to improving the teaching and learning of engineering.


In the UK a class would be a single teaching session, often of about one hour.  In the US, the term class is more commonly used to mean a series of regular meetings on a specified topic – which in the UK would be called a module, a unit or more loosely a course.

closed problem

A closed problem has a single (or possibly 2 or 3) clearly defined solutions, known to the setter in advance.


[Let us set aside definitions arising from technical topics in mathematics or computer science.] For our purposes, complexity inevitably arises in engineering systems (qv) and makes such systems hard to understand.  We would expect projects and problems tackled by undergraduates to demonstrate complexity, but in education it is very hard to define or quantify levels of complexity. See problem-solving.

constructive alignment

It is considered good practice in designing a programme to first define what the graduate should be able to do, then determine how you could assess success in this aim, and finally decide how it would be best to help the learner to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge. This approach is known as constructive alignment.


The term course is usually to be avoided since it is imprecise, being understood by some to mean a module or unit, while on other occasions it implies the whole undergraduate programme.


Creativity is demonstrated when something new is formed. The something might be tangible (eg a device) or intangible (for instance an idea or a theory).  There is a huge literature relating to creativity.  From our educational perspective we need to be clear whether ‘new’ means new to the student or new to the world, and whether – to be valid – creativity must lead to an innovation.


Credits are awarded in recognition of successful completion of modules, units or blocks. In the UK, students are expected to accumulate 120 credits per year, with 360 credits leading to a 3-year Bachelor degree (eg BEng) while 480 credits are required for an integrated masters degree (eg MEng).  The European credit transfer system (ECTS) is based on credits of twice this size (ie 180 for a BEng).  Credits carry no information about grades; they only indicate the passing of modules.


The curriculum is the group of modules or activities which makes up the degree programme. Contrast with syllabus.