June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Educational Research and Methods
13.684.1 - 13.684.8
iFoundry: Engineering Curriculum Reform Without Tears
The National Academy of Engineering’s (NAE’s) 2020 reports1,2 have identified the knowledge and skills needed by the engineer of the 21st century and the large-scale curriculum reform necessary to educate these new professionals. Blank-slate curriculum reform efforts,3 innovations from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) curriculum coalitions,4,5 and even a brand new engineering college6 have bootstrapped models for significant and effective curriculum innovation that offer a variety of plausible avenues for change. Yet, despite significant progress in outlining appropriate changes and widespread agreement that change is necessary, many engineering curricula appear to be locked in a cold war time warp with incremental, grudging modifications coming at the margins, if at all.7
This paper suggests that the organizational processes by which curriculum changes are vetted and made are key factors inhibiting effective change. In particular, the normal democratic processes of curriculum approval invoke a kind of educational NIMBY (not in my backyard) problem in which changes are fine with individual professor as long as they are not demanded in courses that particular professor teaches or cares about. The inevitable logrolling results in a coalition favoring the status quo to block changes that many know are needed.
The paper discusses efforts to overcome such organizational resistance through the creation of a grassroots interdepartmental collaborative pilot unit of students and faculty to test, implement, and assess needed changes. The pilot called iFoundry, short for the Illinois Foundry for Tech Vision and Leadership, was established in the summer of 2007. This paper discusses the origins of iFoundry, its progress to date, and the theory and practice of its implementation. A key notion is that the usual method of approving untested curriculum changes goes against the engineering grain, and that a pilot unit, especially one that combines the efforts of students and faculty from a number of different departments, is likely to test, implement, and then institutionalize changes more effectively than the traditional approach to curriculum change.
The paper starts by reviewing the context of curriculum change in 2008. It continues by discussing the lack of diffusion of tested curriculum reforms that resulted from the NSF coalitions and elsewhere and a number of organizational responses to the problems of change. The paper continues by examining two reasons why curriculum is so hard to change given the organizational processes of vetting and approving curriculum change. It then outlines the iFoundry idea of establishing a collaborative, interdepartmental pilot unit and six key elements of iFoundry’s systems design. The paper continues with a brief report on progress to date and a call for open source curriculum development and the formation of a global xFoundry coalition of pilot units that subscribe to the iFoundry principles.
Flat Worlds and the 21st Century Engineering Curriculum The current engineering curriculum was formed in the crucible of the cold war.8 Since that time, radical changes in transportation, communication, and computer technology9 leave us in a very
Goldberg, D., & Cangellaris, A., & Loui, M., & Price, R., & Litchfield, B. (2008, June), Ifoundry: Engineering Curriculum Reform Without Tears Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3973
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