The National Academy of Engineering’s 2012 forum, “Educating Engineers: Preparing 21st Century Leaders in the Context of New Modes of Learning,” opened with presentations by six speakers who looked at the future of engineering and engineering education from their perspectives as educators, administrators, entrepreneurs, and innovators. Each speaker focused on just one facet of a tremendously complex picture. Yet together they outlined a new vision for engineering education based on flexible, interactive, lifelong learning and the merger of activities long held to be distinct.
When Richard Miller, the president of the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, came to the institution in 1999, he was the college’s first employee. The College did not yet have buildings, faculty members, or students. What it had was a goal, said Miller: to rethink engineering education from the ground up.
The college began by assembling a group of founders who spent two years investigating what engineering is, how people learn, and how to restructure engineering education (see Box 1). They agreed that engineering is not a body of knowledge. “Engineering is a process. It’s a way of thinking,” said Miller. “The aircraft industry started in a bicycle shop. It didn’t start with folks who had a PhD in physics.” For the definition of an engineer, the founding group decided on the following: an engineer is a person who envisions what has never been and does whatever it takes to make it happen.
A New Model for Engineering Education
In 1997 the F.W. Olin Foundation, established in 1938 by engineer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Franklin W. Olin, announced its intention to create a new engineering college based on an innovative model of engineering education. The college began by conducting “Invention 2000,” a two-year effort to rethink engineering education and college operations, then constructed a 300,000-square-foot campus with state-of-the-art academic, administrative, and residential facilities. The college received 2,000 applications for its 20 academic positions. Before the college opened, faculty members worked with 30 student partners who came to the college for a pre-freshman year to help create the curriculum and develop student life programs.
In August 2002, 75 students entered as Olin’s inaugural freshman class. Initially, students paid no tuition. They now pay half of the tuition unless they have financial need, in which case they pay less. Faculty members are not tenured and are on renewable contracts, and the college has no academic departments. Students spend a substantial portion of their time doing projects in interdisciplinary courses that emphasize teamwork and communication skills. The curriculum combines a rigorous engineering education with entrepreneurship, the arts and humanities, and the social sciences, with an overall goal of creating well-rounded “Renaissance engineers.”
For more information: www.olin.edu
Olin College does not want its students to have to know what scientific or engineering discipline they are learning. It wants students to be solving real problems from the day they arrive. Process needs to be at the center of engineering education, with science the scaffolding around that process to help students achieve high results.
“Engineering, in a way, is a performing art,” said Miller. “Suppose you had a child who really wanted to be a violinist and went off to a conservatory of music. If that conservatory of music had an educational program that was patterned after the way we teach engineers today in most engineering schools, what would happen? In the first year, the student would take a course in the theory of sound. We would talk about vibrations. We would do physics problems. We would figure out how strings vibrate, what modal shapes are, and frequencies. In the second year we might take a course in the theory of composition—harmonics,
Richard K. Miller, president, Olin College
melodies, and so on. If you’re really patient, in the fourth year, they might allow you to touch the violin and actually play some scales. I don’t know a kid who is a prodigy in violin who would wait until the fourth year to do that.”
The 21st century will be characterized by complexity, said Miller. “The problems are no longer contained in one continent. They transcend time zones. They transcend political boundaries. They transcend disciplines. They are no longer technology problems. They are societal problems.”
We deliberately want to mix the DNA of engineering students and entrepreneurial business students.”
Richard Miller, Olin College
Yet engineering education today often works against this reality. Students who choose to be engineers spend four years with other engineering students rather than interacting with the students from other disciplines who will be essential to solving societal problems. Olin College, which is in Needham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, is located next to Babson College, which has been ranked number one in entrepreneurship, and every student at Olin has to be involved in business to graduate. “We deliber-
ately want to mix the DNA of engineering students and entrepreneurial business students.”
The college emphasizes students’ engagement in their own learning. Innovations in education, whether online learning or work-based experiences, are beneficial only to the extent that they result in increased student engagement, said Miller. The college also embraces the idea that people learn and succeed in many different ways.
“It takes more than SAT tests and mathematics and physics in order to be successful,” said Miller. Other qualities can spur success, such as interpersonal intelligence and creativity. Many students have these qualities, and these students have the potential to become leading engineers. “We just tend to ignore them in traditional schools.” Olin College has been working hard to bring people into the engineering profession who would not normally become engineers. “A lot of the kids who apply to our program don’t apply to any other engineering school in the country. But the way we are thinking about engineering is attracting them.” Miller observed that half of the incoming students are women.
Finally, a major goal of Olin College is to advance engineering education in the United States and throughout the world. Miller said that he talks frequently with other people who are in the process of inventing new universities. “If we come up with a good idea that happens to work, our mission is to give it away.”
One motivating force behind the creation of Aalto University was that “technology alone does not sell products anymore,” said Tuula Teeri, the university’s president. Instead, products need to integrate engineering, design, and market considerations to capture the interest of consumers. Apple has become dominant because it has understood what people want and has designed its products to meet those preferences, Teeri observed. Aalto University is building on this insight to educate the future creators of world-class products (see Box 2).
Finland is a country of just five million people, so it must look beyond its borders to ensure its prosperity. One way to increase its competitiveness is to emphasize entrepreneurship, which is at the center of Aalto University’s mission. “What we have found out, in this short history of our new format, is that our students are powerful entrepreneurs—they have a huge capacity, much more than my generation.… In
Integrating Institutions to Integrate Knowledge
The Aalto University School of Science and Technology in Finland was created in 2010 through the merger of three existing universities: the Helsinki University of Technology, the Helsinki School of Economics, and the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The university, which enrolls about 20,000 students, is organized into six schools—science, engineering, electrical engineering, business, chemical technology, and the arts, design, and architecture—but its underlying objective is the integration of knowledge. The merger of institutions provides abundant opportunities for multidisciplinary education. Similarly, research at the university is focused on themes that require a cross-disciplinary approach.
The university is named after Alvar Aalto (1898–1976), a Finnish architect, designer, and entrepreneur who exemplified the spirit of integrated knowledge on which Aalto University is based.
For more information: www.aalto.fi/en
engineering education, we should begin to give a lot more responsibility to our students, because, after all, they are the ones who are going to build our future.”
Engineering education in Finland is traditionally a five-year program, where students begin studying engineering on their first day in the program and continue doing so until their last day. Aalto University has been changing this formula by thinking about the skills that future engineers are going to need. “It’s very difficult to predict the future,” said Teeri. “We don’t really know what the jobs are that our engineers are going to take when they are finished [with their undergraduate education] and throughout their careers. Therefore, we are trying to go away from this kind of very tightly disciplinary education in engineering and make it broader, more multidisciplinary.”
“Our students are powerful entrepreneurs—they have a huge capacity, much more than my generation.… In engineering education, we should begin to give a lot more responsibility to our students, because, after all, they are the ones who are going to build our future.”
Tuula Teeri, Aalto University
Tuula Teeri, president, Aalto University, Finland.
In the future, engineers will learn less from books and lectures and more from other kinds of forums, including the Internet, said Teeri. The university will still play a critical role in organizing and overseeing this information, since online information is not always accurate, and in teaching students to be critical thinkers. The university also will promote student learning by engaging companies and other employers.
In particular, Aalto University emphasizes collaborations with industry. Students are supervised by academic teachers and industrial representatives simultaneously and work on ideas that come predominantly from industry. An industrial researcher works with a university team for six months, and many industrial liaisons find the experience immensely rewarding. “One of the engineers who had been working for 20 years in industry said this had been the most exciting experience of his life, because he is able to share with the students the experiences that he has had in industrial life for 20 years—and not just one student, but a whole cohort of students.”
When an engineer friend suggested that Salman Khan put the tutorials he had been developing for his cousins on YouTube, Khan was skeptical—“I said, ‘YouTube is for cats playing piano’”—but he decided to give it a try. “My cousins, after I had produced 20 or 30 of these… somewhat famously told me that they liked me better on YouTube than in person. I took that as positive feedback, and I kept going.”
The YouTube videos proved to have two major advantages, Khan said. They were timeless in that many of the ideas Khan was describing were hundreds of years old. And they could scale up, because anyone in the world could watch them. After a few months, he realized that people who were not his cousins were watching. High school and college students were contacting him and saying, “This helped me get an A on my exam.” People who had never understood a concept or who had missed a day in class were able to learn the concept and move on.
In 2008, Khan established the not-for-profit Khan Academy with the mission of “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere” (see Box 3). By 2009, traffic on the site was so great that he quit his job at a hedge fund firm to focus on what he hoped would be an investment with
Salman Khan, founder, Khan Academy.
From a Classroom of One to a Classroom of Millions
In 2004, Salman Khan, a hedge fund analyst with degrees from MIT in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science, began tutoring his cousin in mathematics. Because she lived on the other side of the country, he talked to her over the phone while scrawling equations on a drawing program that she could watch on her computer. Sometimes he would record a lesson as a video and send it to her, and soon several other cousins were following his lessons as well.
From these modest beginnings grew an online educational initiative that now reaches millions of students every month. With funding from foundations, companies, and individual entrepreneurs, the Khan Academy provides free access to thousands of online videos, most of which Khan has recorded himself. Analytic software tracks students’ use of the videos and their progress in mastering the content. Schools are experimenting with the use of Khan’s videos to provide instruction in classrooms and at home while teachers focus on targeted interventions and special projects, and the videos are being translated into other major languages.
For more information: www.khanacademy.org
a very high rate of social return. The next year, several prominent companies, foundations, and capital investment firms began to invest in the project, and Khan started hiring “some of the smartest people I knew to build out this thing.” The Khan Academy reached 7 million students in the month before the forum, and its growth remains explosive. “We keep trying to push the envelope on what we can be.”
“Engineering is just as creative as being an architect or a designer, because it’s all about [developing] a portfolio of creative works.”
Salman Khan, Khan Academy
The Khan Academy is essentially a virtual school. Though built around interactive videos, it is designed to foster communities of users, and its rich simulations and data analytics optimize engagement. As a complement to a physical school, the Khan Academy provides resources that many students cannot get anywhere else.
The success of online instruction also makes it possible to rethink education, Khan said. Every student could work at his or her own pace, mastering each concept in turn before moving on. The role of the teacher would not be to lecture but to analyze data and do focused interventions based on the results. Teachers could focus on projects, including engineering projects, from an early age. “That has inserted us into the conversation of how we rethink what a classroom could be, what an education could be, what a credential could be.”
In the future, online tools could accomplish much of what happens in traditional classrooms, Khan continued. Today, schools tend to focus on rote procedures and information transfer more than on creativity and teamwork. If technology could develop and assess the competency of students in core areas of knowledge, schools could be more project based and open ended. Such a reorganization would “make it clear that engineering is just as creative as being an architect or a designer, because it’s all about [developing] a portfolio of creative works.”
In the spring of 2012, a joint venture of Harvard and MIT called edX offered an open online course entitled “Circuits and Electronics.” More than 150,000 students worldwide signed up to take the course, even though it required knowledge of advanced calculus and complex analysis, and more than 7,000 students passed it. “That’s as many students as would take the class at MIT in 40 years,” said Anant Agarwal, the president of edX and a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT. “We taught that class with about the same level of staffing as we would teach a one-semester course at MIT, which about 100 to 200 students take.… It’s pretty staggering.”
Massive online open courses, or MOOCs, are “the biggest innovation in learning since the printing press,” according to Agarwal (see Box 4). “Bringing technology to learning and applying it in a concerted manner would truly revolutionize the world.”
EdX, which now involves a number of other universities in addition to Harvard and MIT, mixes elements of traditional classes with new capabilities made possible through technology. Students watch short videos that Agarwal called KSVs, for Khan-style videos (at the forum, Khan said that he had never heard of KSVs but was flattered by the term), and then engage in an interactive experience, thus requiring the students to do more than just watch a video. Together the vid-
The Dawn of the MOOC
EdX is one of several new initiatives that have recently been established to offer massive online open courses, or MOOCs, to many thousands of students at a time. MOOCs are in their earliest stages, but they have the potential to create massive disruptions in higher education. Students who take such courses do not yet receive college credit, but plans are under way to conduct secure and credible assessments of what students taking these courses have learned. By monitoring students’ use of online materials, researchers can learn more about how to improve online learning. Colleges and universities could begin relying on MOOCs for lectures while specializing in more personalized, hands-on experiences. Online courses could break down the current pricing structure of college and radically enhance the internationalization of education.
For more information: www.edx.org
eos and interactive experiences make up a learning sequence. Students who complete the course receive a certification from MITx, or from Harvardx, or from the other universities that are joining edX. EdX also has announced a partnership with the Pearson company that will allow students to take proctored exams throughout the world to demonstrate their mastery of the material.
One challenge for edX, said Agarwal, is to foster creativity in its students, not just engagement with the material. Toward that end, it has been creating online laboratories in which students can manipulate components on a screen to build devices and conduct experiments. Electrical engineers, for example, might be given electrical components and told to build a device, while civil engineers might be given members and beams. The laboratories even have music that students can incorporate into their designs.
“Bringing technology to learning and applying it in a concerted manner would truly revolutionize the world.”
Anant Agarwal, edX and MIT
EdX is also seeking to encourage creativity by building community among online students. For example, it has structured its online laboratories as wikis where students from all over the world can contribute to
Anant Agarwal, president, edX, and professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
a design. “People around the world are modifying each other’s stuff,” said Agarwal. “What we are trying to do is bring the creativity and the community into it in a big way.”
Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, has always been acutely aware of how few women and minorities pursue engineering. When she was a first-year college student in Greece in 1972, she was one of only two women in a class of 190. When she went to the University of California, Los Angeles, as a graduate student in electrical engineering, she was again one of very few women. Then, when she became a faculty member at the University of Michigan, she was one of three female faculty members in a department of about 95 faculty. And the lack of minority students in engineering has been just as striking as the lack of women.
This underrepresentation reflects a more general neglect of engineering in the United States, she said. In China and in Europe, 21 per-
Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor, University of California, Davis
cent and 14 percent of undergraduate degrees, respectively, are in engineering, compared to only 4 percent in the United States.
The best way to change this statistic is to begin teaching engineering very early in children’s learning experiences—even before kindergarten, said Katehi, who chaired the NAE Committee on K–12 Engineering Education (see Box 5). Engineering is not just a collection of information. It is the ability to be observant, to identify problems, to be creative, to think about solutions, and to have the skills to realize solutions. The brain learns by putting things together. A favorite toy among children remains Legos, but children do not get to play with Legos in school. Instead of making things, schools provide students with information. Schools need to take advantage of how the brain works by allowing students to pursue their curiosity and connect that curiosity with science, said Katehi.
K–12 Engineering Education as a Catalyst of Reform
Engineering has slowly been making its way into K–12 classrooms in the United States. A 2009 report from the NAE Committee on K–12 Engineering Education noted that thousands of teachers have attended professional development sessions on engineering-related coursework, and millions of K–12 students have experienced some formal engineering education.
K–12 engineering education can boost student achievement in science and mathematics, raise awareness of engineering and the work of engineers, and increase interest in engineering careers, the committee stated. Engineering education could even act as a catalyst for a more interconnected and effective system of K–12 education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). For example, scientific investigation and engineering design are closely related activities that can be mutually reinforcing, and mathematical analysis and modeling are essential to engineering design.
For more information: www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12635
The recently developed frameworks for science standards acknowledge this point by recognizing that learning science is best achieved through practice. “Engineering is practice,” said Katehi. “It’s designing things that can improve our quality of life, things that can solve some of our problems.”
“Engineering is practice. It’s designing things that can improve our quality of life, things that can solve some of our problems.”
Linda Katehi, University of California, Davis
Engineering provides a way to rethink K–12 math and science education to show students how it becomes interesting and useful through engineering. Enhanced K–12 science education can attract the interest of more girls and minority students by appealing both to their curiosity and to their concern about the social impacts of engineering.
Engineering is becoming more global and socially conscious, Katehi concluded, and in an increasingly “flat” world, where technologies quickly diffuse around the globe, the United States needs to draw on its entire human resource base to retain a leadership position in both science and engineering.
In 2011 the Boeing Company hired 18,000 employees, including thousands of engineers, and it plans to hire many thousands more engineers as its baby boomer employees retire. “In an environment where unemployment in engineering is about 2.6 percent, our worry is, Will there be enough talent to replace those who are currently providing the leading edge of technology that we need as a nation?” said Richard Stephens, senior vice president for human resources and administration for Boeing (see Box 6).
The problems that need to be solved by industry are ever more complex, whether they involve designing a water system, a hospital, a road, or an airplane. As such, many considerations—not just technology—need to be integrated to solve these problems, including social considerations such as responsibility for the environment. Boeing is interested in engineers who can help achieve this integration.
Stephens acknowledged that engineering schools already produce technically competent people, but argued that Boeing needs engineers who are more than just technically competent. First, it needs engineers who are creative. Sometimes engineering requires straightforward approaches, but many solutions are not predetermined. Technology will be important in a “nondeterministic world,” said Stephens, to spur and support creativity.
Boeing also needs engineers who can work in teams. “The ability to communicate, interact with others, be on a team, share thoughts and ideas, have great discussions [is] critically important. And I would contend that one of the challenges we’re beginning to see more and more
The First Century of the Boeing Company
The Boeing Company was founded in 1916 in Seattle as a builder of wooden seaplanes. Today it has 175,000 employees and is one of the largest aerospace companies in the world. During its history, it has produced a large collection of successful commercial and defense aircraft, helicopters, missiles, rocket stages, satellites, spacecraft, parts of the International Space Station, and even hydrofoils.
For more information: www.boeing.com
Richard (Rick) Stephens, senior vice president for human resources and administration, the Boeing Company.
is that our youngsters grow up in the digital world and they are less and less interested and less and less adept at having real human contact and interaction. I think that’s a key challenge we face.”
Finally, Boeing needs engineers who will pursue new knowledge throughout their careers. This drive starts from an early age. Stephens told the story of a chief engineer at Boeing whose father hung a model of an F-15 from his ceiling when he was a child, and he started becoming an engineer as he wondered what it would be like to build airplanes like the F-15. Similarly, many engineers who are nearing the end of their careers were inspired as students by the challenge of Sputnik and reclaiming the American lead in aerospace.
Producing engineers with these traits will require providing students with role models and mentors to help them through the first few years.
Also, disciplines such as mathematics or physics should be taught in context, said Stephens, not as abstract entities, even if that means having engineers teach those subjects rather than people from those disciplines. Engineering schools should involve students in projects from day one, because engineering students want to solve problems, and projects give them a way to do so while learning about partnerships, relationships, and exchanging ideas, Stephens observed. Finally, engineering schools should ensure that their students have internships between at least their sophomore and junior years. Companies like Boeing need to support such internships, said Stephens, “because we’re the ones that want the real, hands-on, practical experience.” Boeing doubled its summer engineering internships to 1,200 in 2012, and plans to support more in future years.
“In an environment where unemployment in engineering is about 2.6 percent, our worry is, Will there be enough talent to replace those who are currently providing the leading edge of technology that we need as a nation?”
Richard Stephens, Boeing Company
Some contend that few US students want to become engineers because the subject is too hard. Stephens strongly disagreed with that idea. Some engineering schools are graduating more than 80 percent of their entering first-year students within six years. These schools could serve as models for how to make engineering attractive again.