MIT: Rethinking engineering education for the 21st century

MIT: Rethinking engineering education for the 21st century

Market news |
By Rich Pell

The report – “The global state of the art in engineering education” – spotlights worldwide trends in engineering education, pinpoints current and emerging leaders in the field, and describes some of its future directions. It has been released by the New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) initiative at MIT.

“Engineers will address the complex societal challenges of the 21st century by building a new generation of machines, materials, and systems,” says Ed Crawley, the Ford Professor of Engineering in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and faculty co-director of the NEET initiative. “We should fundamentally rethink how we educate engineers for this future.”

This realization, says Crawley, is what prompted MIT to originally launch the NEET initiative. NEET is designed, says Anette “Peko” Hosoi, associate dean of engineering and Crawley’s co-lead at NEET, to target MIT education at “the industries of the future rather than industries of the past.” Part of that effort is examining examples of educational innovation across the world, as described in the new report.

Based on interviews with 178 thought leaders with knowledge of and experience with world-leading engineering programs, combined with case studies from four different universities, the report offers a global review of cutting-edge practice in engineering education. It describes examples of successful innovation in engineering education as well as some of its opportunities and challenges.

Several institutions were identified as being considered the current leaders in engineering education: Olin College and MIT were cited by the majority of experts who were consulted, along with Stanford University, Aalborg University in Denmark, and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. Outside of the U.S. and northern Europe, the only university among the top 10 cited for their educational leadership was the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“The profile of the emerging leaders is very different,” says Ruth Graham who authored the report. “While they include universities in the U.S. and Europe — Olin College, Iron Range Engineering, and University College London are among the most frequently cited universities – thought leaders identified emerging leaders from across the world, such as Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC), NUS (Singapore), and Charles Sturt University (Australia).”

Key challenges facing engineering education that are identified in the report include aligning the goals of national governments and higher education, delivering student-centered learning to large student cohorts, and setting up faculty appointment and promotion systems that better reward high-quality teaching.

Looking ahead, the report also identifies three trends that are likely to define the future of engineering education: a tilting of the global axis of engineering education leadership to be less focused on U.S. and northern European institutions; a shift toward programs that integrate student-centered learning with a curriculum oriented to the pressing societal, environmental, and technological challenges of the 21st century; and the emergence of a new generation of leaders with the capacity to deliver student-centered curricula at scale.

The case studies highlighted in the report include universities that may be paving the way by, for example, achieving curricular coherence and integration through a connective spine of design projects. In the longer-term, the world’s leading engineering programs may be those that blend off-campus personalized learning, accessed online as students need it, with experiential learning both in work-based placements and on campus.

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