There are not that many universities that have fully embraced the science of learning. Some schools might have clickers in a few classrooms for example. Others may have intense mentoring programs. But broadly speaking instructional practice hasn’t changed much in higher education since it was first pioneered.
This makes Iron Range Engineering in northern Minnesota pretty unusual. The program has fully embraced the research on how people learn and it’s made for a very different educational experience.
I visited Iron Range engineering recently and was really impressed by their approach. When it comes to assessment, they use a lot of oral tests. As co-founder Ron Ulseth explained to me, the oral assessments allow students to explain what they know, both elaborating on their knowledge as well as showing it to the assessor. In this sense the assessments are both a form of learning and a form of evaluation.
The school’s faculty has also taken some innovative approaches to retrieval practice. One educator showed me this scratch-off that she uses to help students learn.
A spacing approach to learning is also encouraged, and once students learns a principle in any of their courses, they are accountable for being able to describe and apply that principle right up until graduation.
It helps that the program is small. It only has about a hundred students. It’s also well supported financially. There is funding from a regional economic development agency that gives the school a lot of flexibility.
The program has won some recent kudos. MIT recently listed IRE as one of the best engineering programs in the world. For Ulseth, that’s not enough. “Engineering education should always be changing. That’s the nature of engineering. You’re always looking to improve for the betterment of people.”
This post first appeared at The Learning Agency.