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An innovative educational framework that lies on your doorstep

Updated: Jan 29, 2020

Most curriculum innovations fail

As a board member of the Educational Leadership Course that is organised under the sponsorship of Erasmus University, TU Delft and University Leiden (LDE), I reviewed the application files of the 17 candidates for the course in 2017. An important component in these files is the plan for the individual education innovation project. These projects are supposed to be the “mental organiser” for the participants during the 1-year course. Reviewing the files I noticed that quite a number of innovation projects at the three universities are about an upgrading or restructuring of Bachelor or Master curricula. Each one will be a challenge, because we know that most curriculum innovations fail, don’t we..?

Why not start from an existing framework?

Innovation projects always start with an in-depth problem analysis, which is followed by an exploration of different scenarios for a better curricular framework. Rationality, experience, intuition and political debates in this phase go hand in hand. Evidence is not always available. Why not start from a framework that has already been adopted by hundreds of engineering programmes worldwide, and then adjust it to your own wishes and needs? I would expect a proven concept enhances the chance of success.

CDIO_header_coated_TM [Converted]

Since 2001 the CDIO Initiative has developed such framework specifically for engineering programmes. Its principles can also be applied in medicine, humanities and social sciences programmes but then need some tailoring. In 2011 TU Delft faculty of Aerospace Engineering was more or less invited to join the global CDIO Initiative, an international network of universities that have adopted an “innovative educational framework for producing the next generation of engineers”. The reason for the invitation was our reconstructed bachelor curriculum. It happened to be very much in line with the CDIO framework, although none of the curriculum designers had ever heard about CDIO. In the past five years I have played an active role in this network on behalf of TU Delft, disseminating our experiences, and bringing back lots of inspiration to Delft. It culminated in a great European Regional conference in Delft January 2016 and to my appointment of Regional Leader for Europe last summer.

 What is CDIO and what could be the benefits of a membership?

CDIO is:

  1. an idea of what engineering students should learn, now and more so in the future;

  2. a methodology for engineering education reform involving 12 “Standards”;

  3. a community to learn together and share experiences in engineering education.

The idea of what engineering students should learn is described in a syllabus. It summarises sets of knowledge, skills and attitudes at different proficiency levels that alumni, industry and academica desire in the future generation of young engineers. You can  take it as a useful reference when you plan to redefine the intended learning outcomes for knowledge and personal, interpersonal and professional skills. The syllabus is an excellent starting point, not prescriptive.

The methodology involves 12 “Standards”. Because many of us may be somewhat allergic to norms and standards, I’d rather use the word Facets instead of Standards. In my world the most important and discriminating facets are:

  1. the philosophy that technology, engineering and design, building, testing and operating should be the context for all engineering education in the programme;

  2. the integration of personal, interpersonal and product design and building skills and other professional engineering skills that I have described in my vision document (see my latest blog post of December) in the disciplinary courses;

  3. a substantial introductory course in the engineering domain that provides the framework for the practice of engineering to the young students;

  4. two or more design and build projects in the Bachelor curriculum, and authentic practice in labs, workspaces or internships in the Master’s;

  5. integrated learning experiences where engineering, design and professional skills are learned in partnership in courses and projects, where active learning is the norm;

  6. faculty development in engineering practice as well as in teaching and assessing personal, interpersonal and professional skills within their disciplinary courses.

Last but not least the community is the most valuable aspect of the CDIO Initiative. The 164 universities, of which more than 60 are located in the European region, make it a very rich resource for sharing practices, do’s and don’ts in engineering education, sometimes with, sometimes without full evidence. Each year the global community convenes twice (June, November) and the European region once (January or February).

The framework is on your doorstep already, and the opportunities to learn from experiences are free and plentiful.

Further reading

Further details are available at, in the book “Rethinking Engineering Education: The CDIO Approach”, by Edward F. Crawley,Johan Malmqvist,Sören Östlund,Doris R Brodeur,Kristina Edström. Or feel free to consult me.

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