REES 2024, Hubbali, India – Reflections on an outstanding conference

Teresa Hattingh, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, REEN Chair (2022-2023)

The Research in Engineering Education Symposium (REES) took place in Hubbali, India from the 4th to the 6th of  January 2024. The REES conference, the traditionally biannual conference of the Research in Engineering Education Network (REEN) was hosted by KLE Technological University in collaboration with the Indo Universal Collaboration for Engineering Education. The theme for the conference was Connecting Research-Policy-Practice for Transforming Engineering Education and the keynotes, workshops, parallel sessions, and my personal favourite – the panel discussions – certainly brought together these different facets of the Engineering Education ecosystem, encouraging thought-provoking reflection and discussions. The REES 2024 conference overlapped with the ICTIEE (International Conference on Transformations in Engineering Education) conference which is held annually in India to support Engineering Education in the region. I was extremely fortunate to also attend this conference, leading up to REES, which highlighted the extensive and well-established communities of practice across India that are committed to teaching innovation and excellence. This also provided a distinct perspective on the interplay between Engineering Education and Engineering Education Research in different contexts.

Hubbali isthe education centre of the Karnataka state in India and KLE Technological University is central to the development of youth in the region. Interactions with staff and students and a fascinating tour of the laboratories showcased an obvious focus on teaching and learning excellence and developing entrepreneurs to take India into the future. Our laboratory tour took us on a walk through the beautiful campus at sunset. Although KLE Tech comes across as a modern oasis, the institution is over 75 years old. The care and rejuvenation of buildings is evident as old meets new and the campus evolves with the people and technology that fill its spaces. From immaculately kept gardens, fountains and water lily ponds to modern, reflective buildings, the campus creates tranquil spaces for thinking and dreaming. Inside these beautiful buildings is a hive of activity with students, even during the vacation period, excitedly working on projects in the extensive network of laboratories. Our tour meandered through laboratories including a state-of-the-art learning factory, a visual intelligence laboratory, a hub for entrepreneurship and an electric vehicle innovation centre. At each stop along the way, students and staff enthusiastically shared their projects and work and talked about their plans for the future. At the end of the tour, it was easy to see how KLE Tech (as it is familiarly known) drives innovation and economic growth in the region.

The conference itself was meticulously organised with flawless logistics and attention to detail. The tradition of Indian culture flowed through each experience from the exquisite saris worn by delegates, delicious Chai-Masala tea every morning and endless buffets of mouthwatering Indian cuisine to the lamp lighting ceremony and welcoming flowers and hand embroidered crafts for speakers at sessions. The warmth and hospitality of each person that I interacted with was overwhelming, filling each day with kindness and joy.

The REES conference is unique in that it is an independent and global conference that supports and promotes engineering education research. Our REEN network has grown over the past 10 years to become truly representative of engineering education research regions across the globe. It was therefore wonderful to bring REES to a new region where engineering education research is emerging and to discuss and debate how contextual differences influence the complexities and progression of the discipline as a whole. During my time on the REEN board, I have gained an understanding and empathy for the diverse needs of regions and the inter-relationship between regions in the global Engineering Education Research community. My time in India once again made me realise just how special every context is and the amazing experiences that India has to share about their collective engineering education research journey.  I am also proud of the role that REEN and REES have played in shaping this journey. The REES conference is undoubtedly a catalyst for the Engineering Education research discipline in India and I am confident that the established networks and communities and passion for engineering education in this region are the perfect environment for engineering education research to blossom.

This was my fourth REES conference and at each one, I have had the opportunity to meet and catch up with people. I have worked with members of the REEN board and the organising committee of REES 2024 for several years and it was the most wonderful experience to be able to see them, after many hours of online meetings, in person. I was also able to see old friends and colleagues. The conference was attended by several of our REEN board members and three past REEN presidents!

The entire REES conference format, which is unique and special, intentionally creates equal and inclusive spaces that break down barriers between delegates and facilitate deep engagement with ideas. As always, I have made many new friends at institutions across the globe and our interactions have inspired me to find ways to work together on new and existing projects. 

If you feel as if you missed an unforgettable event, you certainly did! Fortunately, the conference ended with an announcement of the next REES conference which will take place in early 2025 at The University of Texas at El Paso. 

This event promises to once again, bring together everyone passionate about engineering education research. From those new to the field to leading authors in the discipline, REES creates a welcoming  and collegial atmosphere where lasting friendships are formed and new collaborations are born. We hope to see you there!

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