Background

Integrated Learning is an important initiative in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science that dramatically enhances the delivery of engineering education at Queen's University. It combines a new learning facility with a fundamentally restructured curriculum to prepare graduates for the challenges and complexities of the engineering profession of the 21st century. The Integrated Learning initiative positions Queen's as a leader in engineering education worldwide.

Where did it come from?

Changes in society, the workplace, and educational practice require engineering educators to accommodate diverging trends in the needs of educated engineers. These trends include:

  • An exponential growth in knowledge that has led to an explosion of curriculum material, heavier course loads, and an increasing trend to specialisation within engineering programs.
  • A shorter learning curve. Fast-paced technology-driven organisations require graduates who are capable of entering practice with shorter training cycles.
  • The need for integration across different disciplines. The complexity of engineering problems requires that engineers have an ability to work with, and learn from, engineers in other disciplines and specialties, and ¬†to acquire additional skills and knowledge in fields as diverse as business and philosophy.
  • A desire for breadth and enhanced professional skills. There is an increased demand by the profession for coupling a strong foundation in theory with the acquisition of professional skills such as critical analysis, adaptability, independent thinking, and effective communication and team skills.
  • The need for established lifelong learning skills. These skills make graduates more effective in both practice and further study.
  • The need for an appreciation of the context within which engineering is applied. Engineers must be conscious of the complex social implications of their work.

Integrated Learning addresses these societal challenges on an ongoing basis. It develops professional skills within a four-year program, without alteration to the mathematical, scientific, and technological content of the programs.

Development of the Concept Queen's Engineering student working on a project

Through testing new pedagogical methods in our own courses at Queen's, careful scrutiny of professional studies of engineering education in Canada and abroad, and interaction with engineering schools in Australia, Europe, and the United States, we have developed an effective strategy for dealing with these challenges. We have also solicited suggestions from our graduates. Both groups stressed the importance of giving students increased experience in integrating material from different sources, and more opportunities to develop the skills needed to transfer theory to practice.

Some universities have tried to satisfy these needs by adding a fifth year to the four-year undergraduate program, but a full fifth year solution is costly to the student and society. A work internship is one possible use of a fifth year, and Queen's, like many other universities, offers this opportunity to upper-year students. While professional skills can be acquired during an internship, the set of skills acquired, and the quality and consistency of the experience, are hard to control.

Through the Integrated Learning initiative, we have strategically redesigned the undergraduate learning experience to make it more relevant, more effective, more efficient, and more reflective of individual learning styles. Students work in teams on problems starting in first year. By final year, students are immersed in real problems provided by industry and government.

Through guided practice, students learn the skills of teamwork, communications, problem-solving and self-directed learning. The Integrated Learning initiative significantly enhances these skills and attitudes on campus, in four years, in a systematic way for every student in Applied Science.

Present Day Integrated Learning at Queen's

The following are examples of Integrated Learning at Queen's. They help further describe the Integrated Learning development process and provide a glimpse into the kinds of activities that will take place in the new Integrated Learning Centre.

TEAM (APSC 400) - The First Step

The Technology, Engineering And Management (TEAM) program was a pioneer in integrated learning. Started by Barrie Jackson in 1995 and now run by David Mody, this fourth year project course originally included students from Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Business to work on real-world engineering problems provided by industrial partners. It is now open to Law and to other engineering disciplines.

APSC 100 - Where We Are Now

The idea of open-ended projects has now been incorporated into the core first year engineering course 'Practical Engineering Modules'. Teams of four students are presented with a practical, open-ended engineering design problem, and are given ten weeks to develop a solution. Each team also gives two progress update presentations and submits a final engineering report.

APSC 381 and APSC 480

Together, these courses comprise the interdisciplinary design stream, created by David Strong, holder of the NSERC Design Chair. Working in groups of students from different programs, the students learn basic concepts of engineering design and then apply these to real-world design projects offered by industry clients.