“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”—Chinese proverb
When I started teaching at the college level in 1971, there was little pedagogy to the profession except “smart in, smart out.” The emphasis was on course content and not on learning, which was assumed to be the responsibility of students. The fact is, learning is the responsibility of both students and faculty, and it doesn’t occur just in the classroom.
There has been much progress in college-level teaching since I started. No university teacher disputes the importance of gaining disciplinary knowledge; a student should graduate knowing something. However, now there is an appreciation that students learn in different ways, not just one way, and that teachers must try to reach their students using multiple approaches. There is a greater appreciation that out-of-classroom activities are very important to supplement in-class learning. Communication skills, the ability to work in teams composed of persons with different educational and social backgrounds, and embracing change as an opportunity instead of a threat—these attributes are also part of learning at the college level. Students tend to have difficulty in courses that involve open-ended problems where there is not a single correct answer or perfect solution; of course, their careers will be determined by how well they address such problems.
One of IIT’s priorities is to provide a distinctive education. To achieve this, we must develop an educational environment that prepares students for the first day as well as 20 years after graduation. Disciplinary, in-classroom teaching addresses the former, while open-ended project courses and out-of-class experiences help address the latter. The faculty of IIT is doing much to advance student learning in environments that go beyond the traditional lecture, taking advantage of rapid changes in technology. Below I mention two initiatives that are subjects of articles in this magazine.
The Idea Shop, the topic of our cover story, is a new facility on Main Campus where students will experience openended learning outside the classroom. Housed in IIT’s University Technology Park, the Idea Shop is now home to our Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program. Through both IPRO courses and entrepreneurial endeavors, students will use the Idea Shop to research and test their projects, aided by rapid-prototyping equipment and an open floor plan that facilitates teamwork and stimulates creativity. The Idea Shop will provide our students the freedom to learn from their mistakes as they work to develop better solutions to problems.
Secondly, IIT is incorporating iPads into the educational experience. All incoming, first-year undergraduates were provided their own iPad at the beginning of this academic year. While PowerPoint has become ubiquitous in educational settings, its main use has been as an on-screen chalkboard. iPads will take learning even further. These devices are being integrated into coursework, allowing instructors to increase interactivity through means such as instant quizzing. iPads break down the walls, both literal and figurative, that laptop use in the classroom often presents. Additionally, because all students and the instructor are using the same iPad software, notes and problem examples can be shared seamlessly.
Through new technologies and a fresh approach to pedagogy, IIT is providing students a more varied and engaging educational experience that will prepare them for long-term career success.
“Involve me and I understand.” This is the basis of the distinctive IIT education.
John L. Anderson