Electrical and computer engineering technologies have evolved into dynamic, complex systems that profoundly change the world we live in. Designing these systems requires not only technical knowledge and skills but also new ways of thinking and the development of social, professional and ethical responsibility. A large electrical and computer engineering department at a Midwestern public university is transforming to a more agile, less traditional organization to better respond to student, industry and society needs. This is being done through new structures for faculty collaboration and facilitated through departmental change processes. Ironically, an impetus behind this effort was a failed attempt at department-wide curricular reform. This failure led to the recognition of the need for more systemic change, and a project emerged from over two years of efforts.
The project uses a cross-functional, collaborative instructional model for course design and professional formation, called X-teams. X-teams are reshaping the core technical ECE curricula in the sophomore and junior years through pedagogical approaches that (a) promote design thinking, systems thinking, professional skills such as leadership, and inclusion; (b) contextualize course concepts; and (c) stimulate creative, socio-technical-minded development of ECE technologies. An X-team is comprised of ECE faculty members including the primary instructor, an engineering education and/or design faculty member, an industry practitioner, context experts, instructional specialists (as needed to support the process of teaching, including effective inquiry and inclusive teaching) and student teaching assistants. X-teams use an iterative design thinking process and reflection to explore pedagogical strategies. X-teams are also serving as change agents for the rest of the department through communities of practice referred to as Y-circles. Y-circles, comprised of X-team members, faculty, staff, and students, engage in a process of discovery and inquiry to bridge the engineering education research-to-practice gap. Research studies are being conducted to answer questions to understand (1) how educators involved in X-teams use design thinking to create new pedagogical solutions; (2) how the middle years affect student professional ECE identity development as design thinkers; (3) how ECE students overcome barriers, make choices, and persist along their educational and career paths; and (4) the effects of department structures, policies, and procedures on faculty attitudes, motivation and actions.
This paper will present the efforts that led up to the project, including failures and opportunities. It will summarize the project, describe related work, and present early progress implementing new approaches.
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