University News

Engineering, digital course content set to expand

New engineering building will bring better labs, more faculty members and students

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Two objectives in President Christina Paxson’s strategic plan — the expansion of the School of Engineering and the creation of the Laboratory for Educational Innovation — are still in the planning phases, though both are set to commence soon.

An institute for environmental sustainability marks a third strategic plan goal that will likely be implemented in the coming year.

The plan to build a new engineering facility was conceived when the Corporation approved the creation of a separate School of Engineering in 2010, said Lawrence Larson, dean of engineering. The building will allow the program to expand.

Ideally, the project will be completed within the next four years, said Provost Mark Schlissel P’15.

The number of engineering faculty members will  rise from the current 48 to as high as the mid-fifties, and both the doctoral and master’s programs will accept more students in coming years, Larson said. Doctoral programs currently admit 30 students annually, and master’s programs currently admit between 60 and 80 students, he added.

Thirty million dollars of the $160 million campaign the University launched last year to expand engineering will be used to hire professors, Schlissel said.

In addition to providing more space for a larger student body and faculty, the building will feature “state-of-the-art” laboratories for various engineering disciplines, Larson said.

The University has yet to pick an architectural firm to design the building but will soon begin to accept proposals, Schlissel said. Pending Corporation approval, the likeliest location for the building is along Manning Walk by Barus and Holley, he added.

The Laboratory for Educational Innovation, which will promote the exploration of digital technology in the classroom, will be constructed in the Sciences Library as part of a renovation of three of the building’s floors, said Kathy Takayama, executive director of the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.

“We’re starting with the learning first,” Takayama said, adding that the project will not be used to force lecturers who prefer a traditional style to digitize their methods, but will rather be a resource for those who would like to incorporate digital media into their instruction.

The lab will partner both graduate and undergraduate students with faculty members to develop course content, she said.

To expand the Brown experience outside the classrom, the lab will facilitate the use of technology to connect students on campus to those at other universities and Brown students who are not on College Hill, Takayama added.

Schlissel pointed to the flipped classroom piloted in ECON 1110: “Intermediate Microeconomics” last semester as an example of technological innovation in course content, adding that the University is developing a similar model for physics and chemistry courses.

Last semester, Pedro Dal Bo, associate professor of economics, supplemented his traditional microeconomics lectures with shorter online instruction videos and replaced one of three weekly lectures with a problem-solving session, The Herald reported in January.

The flipped classroom exemplifies the purpose of the lab, which is to question how the curriculum’s productivity can be maximized, Takayama said.

Construction of the lab is set to begin this summer and will take at least a year to complete, Schlissel said.

As part of the strategic plan’s goal to bolster integrative scholarship, the Environmental Change Initiative, an interdisciplinary research program on environment and society, will be developed into an institute that will be the “intellectual home for people interested in environmental scholarship” at the University, said Amanda Lynch, director of the ECI and professor of geological sciences.

The recently unveiled Building for Environmental Research and Teaching — the “mothership” of environmental research where those interested in the discipline can “congregate and interact” — will house the institute, Lynch said.

The institute aims to bring attention to environmental stewardship, which is “by definition interdisciplinary,” Lynch said. The new space will bring together environmental researchers and students of various disciplines to address themes such as humans’ understanding of their relationship with the natural world, the availability of food and water, human health and well-being and equity and government, she said.

The institute will facilitate scholarly cooperation by providing seed funds for meetings and symposia, working groups, development grants and student travel grants, Lynch said.

The implementation proposal for the institute will go before the Academic Priorities Committee in the coming weeks, Schlissel said. If the committee approves the plan, the faculty will then vote on whether to send it to the Corporation. Schlissel said he hopes to see the project approved at the Corporation’s meeting in May.

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  1. johnlonergan says:

    Why should it cost $160 million to do such a thing? This project could be expanded while not adding to Brown’s capital and operating costs. As an alum, I see no reason to support President Paxson’s insistence on remaining with old, tired, expensive models to educate a few elite students.

    Brown must move from the 19th to the 21st Century through:

    1. Educating millions, not just the 1600/year who must come to Providence.
    2. Adapting new methods of teaching, including online courses, flipping the classroom, and charging a sliding scale from freemium to over $60K/year, thus vastly increasing Brown’s reach.
    3. Vastly expand Brown’s pool of applicants to include the whole world, not just the 29,000 who apply.

    By adopting online courses and flipping the classroom, Brown can expand its revenues while decreasing its costs of education, all while enriching the quality of student-teacher interaction.

    Brown’s current buggy-whip methods are quickly being replaced in fleet-footed competitors, from Stanford to MIT to many lesser universities.

    Spending $160 million only adds to the existing cost burden and Brown’s sky-high tuition rates.

    • Flip the Classroom says:

      This article mentioned your favorite buzz word and you didn’t even seem to care. If you’re going to suggest that we move to this model, at least try to criticize and critique the attempts being made to move towards that direction currently. Half of this article is about digital course content, and you don’t address it at all.

      • johnlonergan says:

        I’m criticizing adding $160 million to an already bloated infrastructure at Brown. Pouring money into an old model makes no sense at all.

        Before committing funds to this or any other project, Brown must reform its methods of teaching in a revenue-positive and low-cost way. Flipping the classroom ala Khan Academy requires only an iPhone camera, Youtube upload and a piece of paper–far from the $160 million Brown is contemplating to add yet more expensive infrastructure and inefficient / ineffective teaching methods.

        I will encourage all Brown alums to quit acting as ATM machines to fund the wishes of Brown’s administration. At 4500 employees and 281 departments, Brown is way too overhead-heavy to accomplish its mission. By relying on old-school (pun intended) methods to pour money into ineffective teaching, Brown continues to fall further behind.

        Yes, I’m addressing Brown’s need to stop doing business as usual, and retake leadership in education. If you have a problem with that–then you’re part of the problem.

        • OK, I am part of the problem. Great. Where is your solution?

          If you think that the administration is too bloated (as I do), why not criticize that and make suggestions about how to reduce the number of unnecessary or redundant administrators? If you think we should not hire new engineering professors, as a not insignificant chunk of this money is being used for, why not actually mention your thoughts on that?

          If you think Brown’s teaching methods are ineffective, it might be helpful to actually say why you think so. Maybe you could even mention Dal Bo’s flipped Macro course.

          If you think an iPhone video of a piece of paper uploaded to youtube is the solution to everything, please, tell me more. Let’s ignore the fact that the professors who would be making this video have salaries, and other time commitments. Or that you would be hard pressed to get ‘millions’ watching videos of a piece of paper filmed on a phone camera when things like coursera, opencourseware, khanacademy exist, or that Brown should be putting it’s name on a subpar product.

          • johnlonergan says:

            It’s difficult to argue with ignorance. Have you actually looked at

          • I’ve used it quite frequently. Do you have an actual comment?

          • johnlonergan says:

            Great. Now that we’ve established the simplicity of KhanAcademy’s techniques, let’s move on.

            Rather than being an adjunct or an additional activity for the professors, I’m proposing that professors flip the classroom with their current courses.

            In regards to high school AP courses, I’m proposing that Brown develop relationships with AP teachers in high school and put its best teachers on the task.

            In regards to making money for Brown, I’m proposing that Brown charge a range of prices, from a freemium model to over $60K per year per student, with increasing levels of certification and professor involvement.

            As an alum, I’m far more interested in paying for Brown content than giving money for buildings. This is a vast, untapped source of revenue that Brown has ignored. At present, Brown drops us the day after graduation, and regards us as an ATM for such useless $160 million projects.

            Now, can you give some substantial input? Are you ready to give an intellectual and practical critique, and add to the dialogue, or simply prove that “the old, tried-and-true is the best”?

          • “Great. Now that we’ve established the simplicity of KhanAcademy’s techniques, let’s move on.”

            OK. We haven’t really done anything, but I appreciate that you took the time to try to insult me, and then gave up and moved on.

            “Rather than being an adjunct or an additional activity for the professors, I’m proposing that professors flip the classroom with their current courses.”

            OK. It does take work to implement a flipped classroom, and remember that there is more to it than just the videos. The second, vital part are exercises like PBL and teacher guidance as students do. The logistics of a large course will require some time from the professors, which is consequently less time for other activities that they do. Such as meeting with current students, or research, and so on. So yes, it is possible, but no it is not free, as you subtly seem to imply.

            “In regards to high school AP courses, I’m proposing that Brown develop relationships with AP teachers in high school and put its best teachers on the task.”

            Sure. This doesn’t sound very much like what you were talking about earlier, but hey, it sounds like a good enough idea. I’m behind it I guess. How would we implement it? Which high schools? What sort of a relationship?

            “In regards to making money for Brown, I’m proposing that Brown charge a range of prices, from a freemium model to over $60K per year per student, with increasing levels of certification and professor involvement.”

            Yes, you’ve repeated this. At least the tiniest hint of logistics and specifics or it isn’t really much of an idea to critique practically or intellectually. 60k I assume is the standard student as we have them now, and I suppose free is just watching the videos. What’s in between? Who are your actual intended students? What do we offer them? What resources does this actually take?

            “As an alum, I’m far more interested in paying for Brown content than giving money for buildings. This is a vast, untapped source of revenue that Brown has ignored. At present, Brown drops us the day after graduation, and regards us as an ATM for such useless $160 million projects.”

            OK. Then don’t give money, or direct your donations to something you think is actually worthwhile. All, or almost all, universities tap their alums for money, not just Brown. Additionally, what sort of Brown content are you interested in paying for that is not available already from another source?

            I think you are mentioning a number of ideas, and then leaving them half-baked. I know your Brown education taught you to focus your argument and provide good support. Let’s see it.

          • johnlonergan says:

            I’m not implying anything, and not insulting you.

            Here are the bare facts. The world is moving away from a prof and 20 students in a room. It is moving away from sky-high tuitions and 4-year stays on campus. It is moving away from continuous hat-in-hand appeals to alums for ever more money. It’s moving away from high overheads and mediocre results.

            The sooner Brown wakes up to that, the sooner it can start to repair its broken reputation.

            Online courses are not a sideline, they form the basis for the future economic sustainability of Brown.

            Brown must build its brand among millions, it must find the budding Mahatma Gandhis and Nelson Mandelas of the world. Brown must engage early and often with potential students. Brown must offer a panorama of opportunities to study, from AP high school students to us rich alumni who are dying to study–and pay for–Brown courses.

            Get out of the mud and take a look at the broader picture. Brown must change–radically–or sink into ever-increasing irrelevance.

          • I’m stunned at how identical this post looks to everything else you say. Thank you for your time; I see no point in continuing further.

          • johnlonergan says:

            I see that you are closed to the trends happening outside the Brown campus. I guess we see more clearly in San Francisco. Which model of teaching will win?

            Are you a reactionary or a revolutionary? Are you afraid to engage?

          • slow your roll says:

            Can you show us results from anywhere else this model has been attempted? How long did it take? What were the logistics involved? Were those institutions anything like Brown at all?

            You come here nearly every day asking a 250 year-old institution built on undergrad teaching, research, and leadership development to change overnight because you think it’s a good idea. It may be; it may not be. I know one thing- thinly-veiled insults on the BDH website at anyone who disagrees is not the way to “win friends and influence people” as the saying goes.

          • johnlonergan says:

            Fair enough.

            Flip the classroom: 10 million students enrolled in the Khan
            Academy, and growing.

            Online courses: MIT offers all its courses online. It’s now offering degrees as well (for a fee).

            Lower-cost tuition: The University of Texas is offering a 4-year degree for $10,000–no, that’s not per year, that’s total for 4 years.

            Better teaching than Brown?
            Languages: Berlitz
            Computer programming: Google, Apple, Facebook’
            Teaching: look at the flipped classrooms at Los Altos High School and 100s of others employing Khan Academy technology
            Online degreed programs: a myriad offered to me at my desk in San Francisco, from U of Chicago, Harvard B School, Cornell, U Penn, many others great and humble

            Frankly, I’m surprised that you ask for who’s doing this. We’re steeped in San Francisco with new, successful learning opportunities.

          • johnlonergan says:

            As regards the 250 year-old institution. Where have you been when so many industries have been and continue to be disintermediated. Do you think that Brown is immune? Look at book publishing, the music industry, textbooks, television, newspapers, and now at education. Do you think that Brown’s 250 year history will somehow save it from the changes needed?

            When I was a McKinsey consultant, we confronted companies who refused to change all the time. They all shared the same characteristics as Brown today: unwillingness to acknowledge the change around them, outdated metrics that hid the problem, comparing themselves to outdated competitors (Harvard, not Stanford), and an immune response that tried to silence change agents. How is Brown different from buggy whip manufacturers or, for that matter, music companies or book publishers or banks or travel agencies, all of whom have been wrenched by change and revolution?

            My experience in consulting (McKinsey) and starting (5) companies and investing in 23 companies is: it’s much easier to lead change than to follow it. Quick comparison: which will continue to do better: iOS or Windows Phone? Which was too late to the game? Brown is at extreme risk, right now, of becoming Windows Phone in the teaching game.

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