For over a dozen years, the Engineering Education and Centers Division and its predecessors have been promulgating culture change and systemic reform in engineering research and education. One of the most powerful tools in this endeavor is to make connections and integrate. Thus, when my NSF colleagues responsible for the various programs represented in this conference were planning their respective grantees meetings, we all quickly recognized the opportunity and desirability of combining the separate efforts. We did so not for the sake of building a huge attendance, but to provide a forum for the various experts and scholars to bounce ideas off one another from the different perspectives emphasized by the various programs, a vital element of innovation.
Therefore, it is not an accident or coincidence that in this conference we have generic sessions and workshops crossing programmatic boundaries to share the best practices in partnering, multimedia courseware, distance learning, evaluation, dissemination, institutionalization, innovation, accessibility, and the like. These practices and practitioners represent an enormous body of assets in engineering education and educational technology. Conferees were invited to explore them as much as possible during the conference and stay connected with one another afterwards, regardless of program affiliation.
Engineers are at the forefront of creating and developing enabling technology for future education. Ironically, many of our faculty have not embraced its use to the extent expected. While cost and other factors may have played a role, perhaps the greatest barrier has been the natural resistance to change. To those who may still be in a wait-and-see mode, we have one message: For better or for worse, change is here to stay; not the least is the way students learn and process information. We must change along with them or risk losing our brightest to other professions. Since we believe that engineering is the enabler and crucial link between scientific discoveries and a strong economy and national defense, not having enough of the best people in engineering could be devastating to our nation for a long time to come.
With the advent of powerful, inexpensive, and universally available high performance computing, broad-bandwidth communication, and multimedia technology, together with the pedagogical output of NSF's programs in education and curriculum development, we are at a confluence in history when all the potential of advances in learning technologies and methodologies can be realized to create significant new intellectual capital. We convened this conference to serve as a catalyst, a bridge to link the potential solutions to the needs, and as a venue for the community to take stock, to display their innovations, and to share ideas and experiences.
To be sure, not all innovations in education are technology-based. Many are intellectual, procedural, and even organizational, such as discoveries in cognitive sciences, evaluation methodologies, ways to collaborate with industry and with one another, how to take innovations from the laboratory to the classroom, etc. Regardless, all of the innovations being explored in this conference are part of the process of keeping engineering education at the cutting edge. As in any human endeavor for advancement and change, some innovations will be adopted outright, while others will fall by the wayside. But most will contribute fragments of ideas and techniques that will be modified and adapted, blending together in the process of advancement.
A thousand cherry blossoms have indeed been blooming. If I may stretch the metaphor, I am delighted to see that we are now beginning to extract their essences and distill them into perfume. And we can say with confidence that this is only the beginning of the process. We fully expect that the many different lines of discussion and the many issues identified as needing additional efforts will spark future projects and conferences, such as this one, as we continue to make rapid strides to improve engineering education.
I thank the conferees for making the effort to come. I believe that many of them were richly rewarded with new ideas and enthusiasm, and I hope that readers of this report will catch some of both.
Marshall M. Lih
Engineering Education and Centers
Directorate for Engineering
National Science Foundation