The Olin Curriculum: Thinking Towards The Future is a paper written in Feb. of last year by a lot of professors and administrators here about - well, the Olin curriculum. It covers briefly where it's come from and where it might be going. Since it is an IEEE publication, it focuses on the ECE curriculum on the last page, but the rest is general Olin and should be of interest to all majors.

It's amusing to see some hints of the future - for instance, the conclusion suggests the possibility of expansion into the biology realm - and some artifacts from the past, such as sophomore integrated course blocks. It is amazing how much a school can change in less than 2 years.

Another section outlines Olin's curricular objectives and goals. Here's my take on how well we're accomplishing them (Miks, I'm procrastinating on my IS deliverable here and still owe you a good post). The standard disclaimer applies: this is in no way representative of anything Olin-official, and is based entirely off my own biased views and experiences.

  1. The curriculum should motivate students and help them to cultivate a lifelong love of learning. I think that we generally attempt to provide this in the execution of classes, but the structure within which those classes are placed (that is, the overarching curriculum) could be better designed to promote lifelong learning and love thereof. Yes, it's very possible for students to pursue their passions if they push hard enough, but that's true of any place; with its many independent studies, cocurriculars, and passionate pursuits, Olin is a much easier place to do this than most. But we can do better. In particular, it is difficult to cultivate a lifelong love of learning when you're trying to overload knowledge into your brain at such high velocity that it is no longer enjoyable.
  2. The curriculum should include design throughout, from the day students arrive on campus to the day they graduate. Day students arrive on campus: Candidates' Weekend, check. Day they graduate: SCOPE projects, check. Well, close enough. Olin has an amazing design component for an engineering school. Olin has an amazing design component for any school, design schools included. I'm not talking about the studio art skills (and if you say we don't have any you haven't taken Prof. Donis-Keller's classes), but the teaching of what it means to think like a designer. I do think that our design foundations, namely Design Nature and UOCD, could use revision; they're arriving at the point where I'm afraid that if we run them the same way another year or two, they're going to become habits.
  3. The culmination of the curriculum should be a senior capstone that is authentic, ambitious, and representative of professional practice. SCOPE, check. Ambitious, yes. Authentic and representative of professional practice? Closer than pretty much anything other than a co-op could be. We've got our own budget, office space, minimal guidance, and a problem. However, we're still very much "not real-world workers" in that we've still got classes and finals and can't work on the project anywhere near full-time.
  4. Students should gain experience working as an individual, as a member of a team, and as a leader of a team. Everyone will get lots of experience with the first two, although individual work is less often project-based, which I can see leading to problems later in life when I have to build things all by myself. I've been lucky and gotten a chance to do this, but not everyone gets to have experience working as a leader of a team. This is compounded by the twin facts that (1) teams usually want to do well and (2) the first time someone leads something they'll be quite uncomfortable and mess up a lot. I'm not sure how to get over this. Perhaps learning leadership should be built more explicitly into the curriculum, and people who normally don't take leadership roles should be given more low-committment, short-term, low-stakes chances to try it out and encouraged to do so.
  5. Students should learn to communicate logically and persuasively in spoken, written, numerical, and visual forms. Some Olin students are very good at this, some are not. I would love to see a higher standard required of all Olin students in this regard, but recognize there probably isn't time to cram more of this into our already packed learning schedules.
  6. The curriculum should include space for a true international/intercultural immersion experience. Study Away, check. I would love to travel with a professor or two, or a group of Olin students on a semi-academic excursion. (By the way, I'll be travelling a lot for the year after graduation; let me know if you'd like to join me in any leg of the journey. More details to come.)
  7. The goal is to graduate self-sufficient, motivated individuals able to articulate and activate a vision and bring it to fruition. An education that prepares students only to turn problem statements into proposed solutions is inadequate; education must also prepare students to recognize problems and to convince others to adopt solutions.

It's a little soon to tell for the last one, but we can hope. I think we're very good at spotting opportunities, but less so at filtering out the good ones, which leads to the perpetual Olin Overload. (oLoad?) To be fair, some students are very good at managing oLoad; many more of us are not. I don't know that there is a better way to learn what you can't handle than by trying to handle it and failing, though. As Chandra pointed out, at some point we're going to have to learn how to be in charge of what we do with our own lives, and the earlier you mess up and learn that, the better; the process takes a lifetime.