Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering: A Case of Efficiently Educating Engineers

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Article ImageCompany: Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

Located in Needham, Mass., Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering is a relatively new institution, opening in 2002. In this short period of time, Olin has gained a reputation in the higher education community for its undergraduate engineering programs. Its small size of nearly 350 students, a "do-learn" approach to teaching, and partnerships with nearby Babson College and Wellseley College contribute to producing innovative and creative engineers.;

Business Challenge

The library at Olin College serves as an integral part of students' education by helping them to achieve critical research and information literacy competency, adhering to standards set forth by various academic associations. Olin's library wanted a different method of teaching these skills, one that coincided with the college's unique teaching approach of classroom experiences blended with digital exercises and tools. This original method was designed using a Microsoft Word document, a PDF, and a course libguide. These proved awkward for students to use, and the Olin team members realized they needed something more streamlined for more effective learning. 

Vendor of Choice: Credo Reference

Founded in the United Kingdom in 1999, Credo is an award-winning and rapidly growing information skills solutions provider serving educational institutions and public libraries across the globe. Headquartered in Boston, Mass., Credo's most popular and mainstay product is Literati solutions with versions such as School (secondary education), Academic, Student Athlete, and Public (public libraries).

The Problem In-Depth

During the last decade, various academic organizations, such as the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and the Science & Technology Section (STS) from the American Library Association (ALA), have developed standards for research literacy. This skill set is imperative to turning students into well-educated, successful engineers as these research capabilities translate directly into the workplace. 

Research literacy is not simply about finding the material needed. Students need to learn how to recognize the validity and fidelity of that material, as well as how to best use specific databases and search engines-in Olin's case, those related to engineering. Additionally, students need to learn what materials are owned by a library-and thus readily accessible-and how to legitimately locate and obtain content that is not owned by their institution. 

"We realized that in our small school with top students, there were gaps in research skills," shares Dee Magnoni, library and knowledge lab director at Olin. The team at Olin wanted to redesign how students would learn those skills. This meant being consistent with the college's philosophy of "do-learn" and moving away from traditional lectures and exercises in favor of more interactive integrated methods. 

A rubric was created by Olin's library team; it would be implemented during structural biomedical classes. The plan included a workshop-based model with classroom experiences associated with an actual course, comprehensive digital exercises and tools, as well as a faculty member and a librarian present to work with students on subject expertise and research skills, respectively. The design coalesced with the school's teaching and learning philosophies by being interactive and participatory in nature. It also took into account the modern student's penchant for using internet sites such as Google and Wikipedia as a starting point for research.

This approach was thorough and adaptable to course level variations and content modules, and the team worked to ensure that it could be used across curricula. The only problem was that it was all implemented using a Microsoft Word document for exercises, a PDF document for tips, and a course libguide research information portal. 

The combination proved awkward and inefficient for students to move back and forth between the different materials, and the final product from students was not as clean as it could have been. The Olin team members recognized that they needed a cost-effective, streamlined resource for delivering dynamic, unique multimedia and exercise-based learning experiences to a sophisticated, tech-savvy student body of future engineers. 

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