Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering honored for instructional innovation

ECE department and partners
The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and its partners received the N. Preston Davis Instructional Innovation Award from Colorado State University.

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has been honored by Colorado State University for its work to reinvent the way students perceive and learn engineering – a project supported by a five-year, $2 million Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The department and its partners in mathematics, The Institute for Learning and Teaching, psychology, and the School of Education received the N. Preston Davis Award for Instructional Innovation at this year’s Celebrate! Colorado State Awards ceremony.

“The ECE department is a model of innovation in undergraduate STEM education,” said Ernie Chavez, director of the CSU STEM Center. “The RED project is particularly important given the retention and diversity issues that engineering educators have faced for decades.”

The need for reform in ECE education

Statistics show that a staggering number of ECE students drop out of the major before graduating – about two-thirds, on average – and women and minorities are still vastly underrepresented in the field.

“Too many capable students are leaving the discipline before they’ve had the opportunity to tap into the excitement of engineering,” said Tony Maciejewski, ECE department head.

Because these problems are not isolated to CSU, the NSF launched the RED program to form a community of educators to lead the nation to change in engineering and computer science education.

Redefining learning

Through the RED project, the ECE department aims to hook students early in the program, and keep them engaged, by showing them how their engineering knowledge will allow them to create a better world.

“At a very basic level, our faculty are working creatively and collaboratively to help students ‘get it,’” said Maciejewski. “Changes are occurring in the integration and delivery of content to show students what real engineering is.”

ECE hands-on activity
ECE sophomore participates in a hands-on group activity that utilizes biosensors to demonstrate engineering applications.

Instead of teaching in silos – where professors rarely collaborate from one class to another – faculty are working together to synchronize technical topics across the curriculum and team- teach key elements of fundamental material. This interactive approach uses hands-on, group activities to illustrate how core concepts fit together to form the basis of many modern day and future advancements, from smartphones to autonomous vehicles.

Creativity 24/7

Embodying the spirit of the Davis Instructional Innovation Award, the RED project also gives students more opportunities to explore engineering, and bring their ideas to life, outside of the traditional laboratory setting. Students are now provided cutting-edge tools that allow them to experiment and invent anytime, anywhere using devices that turn any PC into a powerful workstation to build and test circuits.

The ECE department is currently working to spread the RED project to other schools across the country. “We hope our work will represent a crucial step forward in unraveling the longstanding issues facing engineering education,” said Maciejewski.