Volume IV: What works, what matters, what lasts

October 15/22: Achieving institutional distinction

Reporting out from Leadership in developing a technologically-intensive learning environment

Achieving institutional distinction was one theme at the PKAL event held recently at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Participants were representatives of teams from the first group of PKAL Leadership Initiative Institutions, who had the opportunity to review the process of institutional transformation--moving from vision to planning to implementation to assessment, and back to vision and planning--through the lens of the RPI experience in developing a technology-rich learning environment.

Focusing on Institutional Distinctiveness

The first order of business in addressing a significant institutional opportunity is to wrestle with issues relating to the aims and objectives of the academic program. Such discussions help avoid ad hoc decisions; they shape and reinforce an institution-wide commitment to strengthening the learning environment for students in STEM fields.

By beginning with a consideration of mission and academic plan, faculty and administrators, trustees and staff determine how building new programs and renewing current programs fits into your current mission and shapes your future plans. As these discussions proceed, priorities for the short- and long-term will emerge for how you develop curriculum, faculty, and facilities, as well as how you allocate and secure resources needed to accomplish your planning priorities. These discussions about mission will not be easy, especially in a time of stiff internal competition for limited resources, but they are an essential foundation required for building strong and sustainable STEM programs for undergraduates.

The central piece of the RPI orientation meeting was discussions led by RPI leaders--past and present--about their experiences in making interactive learning at Rensselaer the distinctive mark of their undergraduate engineering learning environment.

"If everything is under control, you are not going fast enough." With these words from Mario Andretti, Gary Gabriele introduced a discussion on the steps toward articulating a clear vision, reinforcing Andretti's cautionary words with a challenge from Jack Welch, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.

Download Gary Gabriele's PowerPoint about organizing a strategic plan

Other materials presented at RPI may also be of interest:

  • The RPI Story: Development of a technology-rich learning environment
    - Gary A. Gabriele, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, RPI, and Division Director, Engineering Education and Centers, NSF
    - Sharon Roy, Director, Academic and Research Computing, RPI
    - Brad Lister, Director, Center for Innovation in UG Education, RPI
    - Don Millard, Director, Academy of Electronic Media, RPI
    With a vision towards creating a technologically rich learning environment, RPI implemented a strategic plan and institute-wide curriculum reform on campus. Moving in a direction of studio classrooms, laptop requirements for all students, faculty mobile computing, and inclusion of the Information Technology staff in the planning stages, RPI serves as a case study for other institutions with the goal to institute technologically rich learning for their students.

  • Cycles in curriculum learning
    - John E. Kolb, Chief Information Officer, RPI
    - Gary A. Gabriele, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, RPI, and Division Director, Engineering Education and Centers, NSF
    - Sharon Roy, Director, Academic and Research Computing, RPI
    A chapter in the SCUP publication Technology-Driven Planning: Principles to Practice, edited by Judith V. Boettcher, Mary M. Doyle, and Richard W. Jensen, this essay serves as an accompaniment to the presentation above and provides insight into the RPI story and the institution's change in curriculum, computers, and teaching styles.

  • Designing spaces that accommodate the technologies that are transforming the learning environment
    - Gary A. Gabriele, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, RPI, and Division Director, Engineering Education and Centers, NSF
    - Richard M. Heinz, Principal, Research Facilities Design
    Gabriele and Heinz explain the issues, process, and benefits of creating studio classrooms at RPI. Eliminating long lectures and focusing on student discovery, studio classrooms provide the opportunity for hands-on activities, multi-media learning, and interaction between students and faculty, and ultitmately, increase the excitement for learning for the student and instructor.