University of Illinois Aims to Reinvent Engineering Education

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The University of Illinois announces a bold plan to transform engineering education through a new initiative, the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (iFoundry). iFoundry combines digital media, open source curriculum reform, and high levels of corporate and student involvement to promote rapid, effective change.

We plan to make the results and products of iFoundry available in the hope that others will use them and join us in the transformation process

In our complex society, today's engineers must be capable of creating new products and services to compete in a globally competitive marketplace. At the same time they must respond effectively to difficult societal and environmental challenges. Ilesanmi Adesida, dean of the College of Engineering at Illinois, has announced a bold plan to forge a new breed of creative engineers for the 21st century by creating a new interdepartmental curriculum incubator, iFoundry: The Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education (http://ifoundry.illigal.uiuc.edu).

"The current engineering curriculum was established during the Cold War era and needs to be thoroughly reexamined and overhauled," Adesida stated. "Engineering today is unusually fast-paced and requires an uncommon blend of knowledge and skill along technological, humanistic, and artistic dimensions."

Despite the need for change, few engineering schools have yet to make the adjustments required to realign engineering education with the needs of an Internet age.

"Curriculum change is thwarted by the very way in which colleges and schools of engineering are organized," Adesida added. "Even when the need for big changes is widely acknowledged, at the time of a vote, the curriculum passed is the curriculum of the past with minor tweaks."

Charles Tucker, associate dean for undergraduate programs, suggested the need for an overhaul of the organizational processes of change.

"iFoundry will allow us to make meaningful changes, such as strengthening the creative capacity of our students, while preserving the technical excellence that has been the hallmark of Engineering at Illinois," remarked Tucker. "iFoundry is a collaborative, interdepartmental curriculum incubator, where volunteer faculty and students from many departments will come together to plan, test, and execute the engineering curricula of the future."

To head up the iFoundry initiative, Engineering at Illinois has turned to two veteran professors. During the past year, Andreas Cangellaris, a faculty member in electrical and computer engineering, and David E. Goldberg, a professor in industrial and enterprise systems engineering, have engaged their fellow faculty members as part of a grassroots effort to examine the feasibility of creative curriculum change and to lay the groundwork for substantive action.

"Dean Adesida is taking an important step toward educating the engineer of the future, and we believe that other schools will examine the organizational principles embedded in the iFoundry initiative," Cangellaris explained.

Goldberg added that engineering students at Illinois are excited by the possibilities of the iFoundry initiative, and plans to emphasize design, entrepreneurship, and social responsibility are likely to help recruit and retain a more diverse engineering student body.

With the start of fall classes, iFoundry is up and running. Early efforts focus on realigning humanities and social science coursework in student-selected themes, injecting digital media into new and existing coursework (http://www.youtube.com/illinoisfoundry), and making the first two years of engineering education more effective and attractive. The three concentrations in the content initiative are called ThingSpace, ThinkSpace, and FolkSpace, to recognize the importance of engineering artifacts, engineering reasoning, and engineering as an activity by and for people (http://www.slideshare.net/ifoundry).

Adesida and his team are making plans for the recruitment of the first iFoundry class. Admissions and funding efforts are underway. A key feature of the iFoundry effort is that like many software efforts, it is an open-source initiative.

"We plan to make the results and products of iFoundry available in the hope that others will use them and join us in the transformation process," Adesida said. "We invite all engineering educators to share in this important project and keep engineering education vibrant and aligned with our times."

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DAVID E GOLDBERG
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