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“Unified Engineering” Marks Publication Milestone for OCW

The MIT OpenCourseWare Initiative now lists more than 900 courses on its Web site. One of MIT’s most venerable, “Course 16.01: Unified Engineering,” showcases the active learning and integrated curriculum goals that are the benchmarks of the MIT Department of Aeronautcs and Astronautics. This signature MIT Aero/Astro course is the largest ever published by the OpenCourseWare initiative.

Mention this famous course from the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics to any MIT Aero/Astro grad from the last 30 years, and you are certain to get a knowing nod.

It is the bane of every MIT Aero/Astro student’s sophomore year--combining the disciplines of Materials and Structures, Computers and Programming, Fluid Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Propulsion, Signals and Systems, and Systems and Labs, into one year-long course designed to introduce the systemic nature of aerospace engineering… And now it is the biggest course ever published--by far--on the MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) Web site. The Web site for Course 16.01-04: Unified Engineering I, II, III, & IV marks a major publishing milestone for MIT OCW, and is enabling the MIT Aero/Astro Department to share its unique pedagogical approach.

“Unified Engineering is the signature course for Aero/Astro at the undergraduate level, and it embodies the essence of aerospace engineering education at MIT,” said Professor Wesley L. Harris, the Aero/Astro department head. “The opportunity afforded us to publish Unified through OCW brings benefits to the students, to the faculty involved in the teaching of the materials, and to others outside of the department and beyond MIT. We are better equipped to continuously improve Unified Engineering now that it is so easily accessible to our faculty.”

Professor Steven R. Hall is one of the lead instructors on the course, along with Charles Coleman, Mark Drela, Kristina Lundqvist, Mark Spearing, Ian Waitz, and Peter Young. “Starting three or four years ago, we really began to transition to an almost Web-only system. We had been building the site using DreamWeaver, and if you look at our current site and compare it to what is on OCW, it is fairly similar. We tended to organize each discipline as a matrix, with each lecture topic and the corresponding homework, tests, problem sets, and such,” Hall said.

“We have gone to an active learning program. We use in-class concept tests and we use ‘muddy cards’ where students can give us feedback. We began responding to the muddy cards on the Web, and that began to increase the material we had to transfer to the students. The Web makes that easy to manage,” continued Hall, who himself took a much lower-tech version of Unified in 1978-79. “We always had a philosophy where the course would be open to the world, and OCW lets us do that.”

Unified has been taught as a requirement for MIT Aero/Astro students since 1973, and over the years, close to 2,500 students have struggled with its problem sets. The “active learning” method of teaching employed for the course--which was factored into the MIT OCW site design for Unified--is part of the MIT Aero/Astro Department’s Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO) initiative. The vision of CDIO is to provide students with an interdisciplinary education that stresses the fundamentals and is focused on real-world systems and products. It has been adopted by universities in the United States, Ireland, Denmark, and Switzerland, among others.

“Among CDIO and OCW’s common strengths are that they are open architecture endeavors, they offer substantive online resources, and they are generating great interest in the international education community,” said Professor Edward Crawley, who has led the development of CDIO. “CDIO offers a framework and benchmarks applicable to any engineering education program, and with Unified now online, others can avail themselves of some of the specific tools MIT is using to apply CDIO in the classroom.”

“CDIO is the framework, the architecture for our undergraduate teaching. We hang our curriculum on CDIO and certainly OCW enables us to share that framework with others,” Harris added.

The Unified course site on MIT OCW features more than four times the volume of educational materials of a typical one-semester MIT course--about 1,500 different files and learning objects, including video course introductions by Coleman and Waitz, explaining to MIT OCW users the concepts and pedagogical goals of Unified; lecture notes; assignments; and documentary video footage of the semester project. Samples of active learning techniques employed by faculty also are included.

The publication of Unified came as part of MIT OCW’s publication of 200 new courses on September 17, bringing the total number of courses available on the MIT OCW Web site to 906.

Visit the course site for Unified Engineering at

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