Transformation Continues

Originally published in the 2016 edition of Innovation magazine

Today’s students in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute are experiencing more: more input from industry advisors and partners, more project-based learning, more opportunities for global and cultural activities, and more connections across courses required for their majors. And more transformation is on the way.

Each school, department and statewide location within the Purdue Polytechnic Institute is making organizational changes that support the overall transformation of the college as well as its own program-specific improvements.

Across the board, each academic unit is building stronger connections to industry and increasing global and cultural activities on and off campus, all of which is generating new excitement and energy.

“The faculty don’t seem to have a whole lot of trouble jumping into this. It’s their passion,” says Pat Connolly, professor and head in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology. “Once they start to see it, they do it pretty quick. The spirit of the Polytechnic is starting  to infuse what we do. It’s ‘why not?’ instead of ‘why?’”

In the Department of Computer and Information Technology, faculty are integrating concepts across a plan of study.

“The integrated freshman experience has the faculty excited. It has energized them to reflect on their courses and how they intersect,” says Dawn Laux, assistant department head for recruitment and clinical associate professor.

The Polytechnic transformation also has given professors incentive to think creatively about how courses are taught, how students learn and how the college provides opportunities for students to practice what they learn. Professors are going through Purdue’s IMPACT program, whose goal is to redesign courses by using research findings to create student-centered teaching and learning environments, especially in early foundational courses. IMPACT stands for Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation.

“The goal of transformation is to make each of the Polytechnic learning elements intentional,” says Ken Burbank, professor and head in the School of Engineering Technology. Several tenets of the Polytechnic learning environment may have been part of a student’s previous educational experience, depending on the program of study. The current focus of the transformation provides a way for academic units to codify the learning elements into the curriculum and make them available to all students.

Purdue Polytechnic Statewide locations also are scrutinizing classroom experiences and amplifying project-based learning. They are strengthening ties to industry while implementing many of the same curriculum enhancements as the West Lafayette campus.

The transformed Purdue Polytechnic learning experience focuses on 10 essential elements in its mission to produce graduates with deep technical knowledge, applied skills and experiences in their chosen disciplines. They also will gain problem solving, critical thinking, innovation, communication and leadership skills sought by employers and communities.

Learning Reinvented: 10 critical elements lift student learning to new heights

Theory-based applied learning: Learning by doing has always been the foundation of the Polytechnic learning experience. It’s a powerful, proven approach that drives students to better understand and retain concepts, so the college is maximizing hands-on applications.

Learning Innovated, Elevated

Anderson to give students a new level of excellence


Three of the elements of the Polytechnic learning experience will be addressed when Purdue Polytechnic Anderson opens its new building in January 2017.

“We are extremely excited about what this new space means for our students,” says Corey Sharp, director of Purdue Polytechnic Anderson. “It will provide them with the labs needed for our engineering technology and computer technology degrees.

We pride ourselves on learning by doing, and the new Plant 3 facility will allow us to fulfill our new Polytechnic mission.”

The building will support a growing program at Purdue Polytechnic Anderson, including new majors in supply chain management technology and computer and information technology. Purdue Polytechnic is also actively engaged in the Indiana return-and-complete initiative, providing another avenue for adults to finish a degree they may have started before.

“The plans for this building and the partnerships that make it possible embody the Purdue Polytechnic learning environment: more learning by doing, an integration of industry projects, collaboration and exposure to entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Gary Bertoline, dean of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. “The facility is an incredible opportunity for our students in Anderson and for business and industry in the region.”

Team project-based learning: Companies and communities rely on teamwork to achieve success. From students’ first semester to their last, team projects will expose students to team dynamics, deadlines and problem-solving techniques. More team projects have been added in the past year — a trend that will continue.

Modernized teaching methods: The college also is emphasizing research-proven, state-of-the-art teaching methods known as active learning. They are different, fun, challenging and more effective. In the first two years of the transformation, the number of courses using these methods has nearly tripled, and increasing numbers of faculty are learning how to use the techniques.

Internships: Purdue Polytechnic is moving from encouraging internships to embedding them and other workforce-like activities in its programs. In the summer or during the academic year, students use these opportunities to expand their knowledge and skills, and prepare for future employment. A goal of the college’s transformation is to require an internship or other workforce-like experience of every student.

New leaders spearhead ambitious goals


Mike Reckowsky and Carly Turow have been appointed as directors of industry engagement for the Purdue Polytechnic Institute. The new roles within the college’s Office of Engagement were created to develop and support the growing capstone and internship programs. The directors will:

  • • Engage with companies.
  • • Identify and pursue new opportunities.
  • • Help secure internships.
  • • Increase sponsored capstone projects.
  • • Establish new corporate relationships.

Senior capstone projects: Real projects with real clients benefit students, companies and communities. Purdue Polytechnic programs include senior capstone projects that allow students to apply what they have learned to solve real-world challenges selected by corporate and community partners.

Real-world problem solving

Companies give students their challenges


During 2015-16, 30 teams of seniors in the School of Engineering Technology worked on sponsored projects with 19 companies and universities. The yearlong projects typically ask students to improve a process to increase safety, efficiency or automation. Projects range from products with a target audience in mind to improvements in a manufacturing process.

For example, two projects for FirstBuild, a co-creation community backed by GE Appliances, focused on improvements to cooking appliances. Students worked on “Eliminating the Knob: A Hands-off Approach to Venthood Control” and “Adjustable Height Range with Rotating Cook Top for Wheelchair-Bound Individuals.”

Two other projects concentrated on the inspection process in a manufacturing environment.

A group of four students tackled an Engine Seal Installation project for Caterpillar. The company asked the students to experiment with different ways to test water neck manifolds during installation instead of when an engine is completed. The team designed a two-point lever system that will be tested in the Caterpillar plant soon.

Another group took on the challenge to create an automated vision system to inspect electronic products. The project was one of three international projects the students managed. Sponsored by Flextronics, the project was a collaboration with students at Gdansk University of Technology in Poland. The Purdue students traveled to Poland in the spring to present their project to the sponsor.

Integrated learning-in-context curricula: Students learn best when

  • They have a deep understanding of why they’re learning.
  • Their learning occurs just in time, before it is needed.
  • The learning outcomes are tied to practical experiences.

Purdue Polytechnic courses follow these pillars of purpose, timing and practicality, while groundbreaking efforts are underway to integrate and synchronize courses and content across the curriculum.

Integrated humanities studies: The integration of technology studies with humanities and social science studies improves critical thinking, creativity, logic and innovation. Polytechnic students graduate with these skills and are well-prepared for lifelong learning and success.

Global/cultural immersions: The world is shrinking while global and cultural opportunities are growing. Boasting a multicultural learning environment filled with faculty, staff and students from over 100 countries, Purdue Polytechnic offers an enriched perspective through study abroad, international internships, and other global and cultural activities.

Faculty-to-student mentorship: College students are more successful when someone takes special interest in their aspirations and progress. In the Polytechnic, students have the unique opportunity to be assigned a faculty mentor to steer them toward success by providing professional guidance and support throughout the school year. This new program begins in fall 2016.

Competency credentialing: Polytechnic students demonstrate mastery of concepts and applied skills (known as competencies) while they enjoy flexibility to focus on their interests and learn at their own pace. They also build e-portfolios to showcase their capabilities. Purdue is a front-runner in competency-based learning and the Polytechnic is expanding its competency-based offerings.

Student-tailored studies

Curriculum capitalizes on students’ inspirations


The Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditation organization, approved Purdue University’s degree in transdisciplinary studies in technology, the first competency-based degree at Purdue.Purdue’s program allows students to develop skills in an individualized program of study based on their interests.

Jeff Evans, interim associate dean for undergraduate programs, says the program emphasizes creation, application and transfer of knowledge through hands-on learning. Overall, learning, not time, is the constant through this program.

“We believe that transdisciplinary studies in technology at Purdue Polytechnic is the first program to combine individualized plans of study, close faculty mentoring of students and a competency-based approach for traditional learners at a public research university,” Evans says.

Other faculty are adopting competencies as a way to motivate their students. When Ray Hassan outlines academic expectations for students in his 3-D animation courses, he finds that most students perform just well enough to earn an A instead of exploring the boundaries of their potential. Hassan, a clinical assistant professor of computer graphics technology, has since found a way to distinguish students just meeting course requirements from the ones in dogged pursuit of skill mastery and a career in the animation industry.

After attending a presentation on competency-based learning, Hassan implemented Purdue’s Passport application.With early support from ITaP staff, Hassan designed a collection of badges that recognize 3-D animation skills such as polygon modeling, surfacing, lighting, and dynamics, as well as the different levels of mastery within each skill set.

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