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University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering
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COE has a Vision for the Future

Chancellor David Ward's publication, "A Vision for the Future: Priorities for UW-Madison in the Next Decade," has been the impetus for numerous changes on campus, says Provost John D. Wiley, a professor of electrical and computer engineering.

"Faculty, in contrast to common perception, are brimming over with good ideas about pedagogical, course and curricular improvement. Chancellor Ward's vision document has served as an encouragement and focus for discussion that is now bringing those ideas forward for active development at a pace that is probably unprecedented in the history of this institution."

In the College of Engineering, for example, a much greater emphasis has been placed on expanding the engineering-related experiences of freshmen. "The purpose of our curriculum renovation has been to instill in undergraduates a thirst for learning," says Michael L. Corradini, associate dean for academic affairs in the college. "Engineering education has tended to overemphasize the understanding of scientific facts and give less attention to the desire to understand these facts. We wanted to achieve a better balance."

Students discussing at table

Freshmen in an Introduction to Engineering lab ponder how to make a dog harness that will assist a man with multiple sclerosis in climbing stairs. (31K JPG)

Here are some ways in which that balance is being achieved:


  • Freshmen can take Introduction to Engineering (EPD 160), a course that allows them to work in small teams on a hands-on design project for a real customer. The course, offered as a pilot in 1994, is now taken by about one-third of the freshman class as a technical elective.


  • A learning community has been developed to link students from the Introduction to Engineering Course with those concurrently taking a course on technical communication. This means students can use their design projects from the introductory course as subjects for the technical communication exercises.


  • Another learning community was developed for freshmen taking calculus and chemistry at the same time. Students are grouped into discussion sections where teaching assistants work with professors in both courses to formulate problems that connect the two disciplines.


  • A tutorial has traditionally been offered in statics (engineering-oriented physics) because its math-intensive curriculum has been a stumbling block for freshmen. Now the tutorial is taught by seniors who regularly meet with groups of 10-15 students to solve problems together, instead of in one-on-one sessions.

"Our curricular renovations have only just begun," says Corradini. "We expect similar developments in our upper-division and graduate curricula. For example, a natural extension of the introductory engineering course is the development of independent study courses for upperclassmen in which an ongoing design or research project is the focus for teams of students."