DEC Core Curriculum
College of Design, Engineering and Commerce
College of Design, Engineering and Commerce
A collective word from the jury about the winner: We salute Philadelphia University for taking the bold step to reinvent what amounts to 50% of their university and bring together 15 undergraduate majors and 1500 students in the newly founded (2011) College of Design, Engineering and Commerce. The curriculum that has been drawn up is interdisciplinary and set to function in a truly transdisciplinary fashion. In this undergraduate educational initiative, Design (with a capital D) and design education take center stage. We will be watching and learning from the outcomes ahead.
Silos are broken down for the benefit of a truly integrated education for the 21st century.
Breaking down institutional structures and working collectively through the institution to reimagine and reconfigure this curriculum is evidence of an institution determined to leapfrog.
This program reflects the future of design and acknowledges the complexity of the world we live in.
College of Design, Engineering and Commerce
In 2011 we launched the College of Design, Engineering + Commerce (DEC). DEC represents 50% of the university, 15 undergraduate majors + 1,500 students. The core curriculum is: Integrative Design Process, Business Model Innovation, Ethnographic Research Methods, Science System Thinking, and an integrative capstone. This curriculum is design to teach students to understanding process, think in frameworks, understand system compleixity, and research methods. Integrative Design Process, emphasizes problem finding, framing, propositioning thinking, working in teams, and creating an awareness about their learning styles and problem solving types. Design, Business, and Engineering students all take this introduction to design thinking.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
The professional world our graduates are entering is progressively more transient due to macro-economic trends in recent decades. Years of deindustrialization, increasingly fluid capital markets, de-spatialization from technological communications, and globalization are factors that have shaped an economy that is continually restructuring. These are forces, among others, that radically accelerate that rate at which professions are born, die, and evolve, and greatly influence the shape of our educational models.
The challenge is to design an undergraduate educational experience that prepares students in design, engineering and business to be confident and work fluidly in this volatile context with a skill set that responds to changing conditions. The challenge is full of paradoxes: the curriculum needs to be broad to reach multiple disciplines, and specific to its applications within a field; it needs to provide both theory and practice; it needs to be relevant to the present yet prepare students for the future; it needs to be taught within undergraduate education and directly relevant to the real world. In short, we needed to design a learning framework of shared methods and a common language that prepares students to collaborate effectively and to work across disciplines with skills and knowledge that are relevant to today’s careers, transferable to other fields and practices, and applicable to emerging opportunities.
We are excited for students to learn effective strategies for innovating that together broaden the expertise of any one area, add educational value to each major, and ultimately, prepare students for strategic leadership in their fields.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
We focused on the student experience and the world in which they face – rapidly shifting with complex interlocking challenges that cannot be solved through either a single discipline or discipline coordination alone. Our focus is agility and process portability early as opposed to standard discipline development capped with collaborative courses in the junior and senior year. We saw the need to expose them early to discipline neutral concepts that have meaning and connection in design, engineering, and business. This core framework together with their major courses and liberal arts study act as a DNA double helix to integrate their professional study into a broader context.
The four-course core framework sequence includes: Integrative Design Processes (IDP), Business Model Innovation (BMI), Research Methods (RM), and Science System Thinking (SST). + Capstone.
IDP activates design as a platform to teach collaboration, action-based thinking, and the ability to integrate multiple perspectives in a social process that focused on identifying and offering what is both desirable and useable through inquiry, problem finding, framing, prototyping, evaluation, and iteration. BMI leverages design process and introduces business model frameworks by mapping business models based upon the interlocking relationships among the value proposition, infrastructure, customer, and value measures. RM, focuses on user centric research, qualitative methods of probing unknown and complex challenges. SST which currently focuses on biomimicry and sustainability where students will learn to think of their now substantial professional field in a holistic, system context with marked consideration for our limited environmental, social, and economic resources.
We developed a national thought leader network of advisors from corporations, academy, and non-profit sectors. This included pioneers from other leading colleges and programs, New York Times best selling and award winning authors and researchers in interdisciplinary education, applied design thinking, and design, engineering and business innovation, as well as c-level corporate executes and corporations that hire our students upon graduation. Inclusive in our process is focus group discussions with our students and multiple pilot courses at all levels of study.
Like many universities and colleges with design curriculum, we have run a number of collaborative courses and projects for more than a decade now that link various design fields, design and business, design and engineering, and design and occupational therapy. Some of our larger scale projects have linked the entire value chain of product and service design from complex, forward thinking challenges. Notable examples include the Corporate Design Foundations Service Station of the Future Challenge, which integrated architecture, landscape architecture, industrial design, engineering, graphic design, and business majors to conceive of the built environment, products, services, communication, branding, and business models for a service station of the future when gasoline is no longer the predominant fuel for vehicles and a large scale project for the QVC corporation that leveraged our various fashion programs to design a collection of apparel products for new mothers and their children which included design, construction, sourcing, marketing, branding, and identity. These experiences informed our plan for the core curriculum to better prepare students to collaborate.
The industries in which are students will be future leaders are a key stakeholder for us. As a result the university has created the position of Executive Director of Innovation, charged with managing industry partnerships for collaborative research. A major initiative in this area of focus is the capstone. All DEC students in their senior year will take a six-credit, year long, integrated, industry sponsored capstone course. This notion of industry engagement is at the heart of the university’s nexus learning pedagogy.
These perspectives afforded us consideration for market supply, demand, and evolving market shape and structure for graduating professionals and global need for professionals equipped to address complex challenges such as the need for clean water, sustainable energy and food supplies.
Since launching the first iteration of the Integrative Design Process course this fall (all others will be rolled out in subsequent years), we have developed an assessment process of capturing student voices and a series of faculty working groups cross checked by industry experts to continually iterate the course and the entire curriculum.
As the core curriculum is now well underway, we look ahead to developing the interconnectedness of our majors in the context of our changing world. For example, over 30% of our university enrollment is comprised of fashion related programs, we have substantial diversity in healthcare programs and sustainability both of which include policy, care delivery, products, and the built environment. We find design at the heart of what we call our “ecosystems of expertise”.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The impact of globalization requires we prepare students to work in a multinational economy, and to bridge multicultural social and political contexts. Issues of ecological, financial, and social sustainability also alter the context for practice and arguably require dramatic changes to pedagogical strategies in order to effectively introduce students to systems, networks, scale, time, relational thinking and an ethical understanding of their impacts. Rapid changes in technology, the availability of information and its influence on communication, business practices, cultures, and community affect the ways people work, communicate, play and interact in the world. It is important that we provide students with a productive awareness of these contexts, the related cultural and social practices and how these forces interrelate and shape each other.
Traditionally, organizations have not been designed to address the challenges of a complex world. Hierarchical and silo structures have been efficiently designed to break down problems into more manageable fragments; however, they are much less effective dealing with high levels of complexity. For this reason, many of our long-standing institutions are now struggling to adapt. Complex problems are messier and more ambiguous in nature.
Given these contexts, today’s employers have increased expectations for graduates to be more entrepreneurial, take more active role in their work, have broader skill sets, be adaptable thinkers, and have an expanded critical awareness of the world in which they will be working. Employers expect their employees to collaborate across functions and integrate disciplinary concerns, to manage a creative team, and have leadership skills.6. Describe the overall philosophy that drove the design brief, research methodologies, tools and outcomes (e.g. self-defined or client-defined briefs, participatory briefs, process outcomes or artifacts outcomes, etc.).
We borrowed the term VUCA from the military’s description of fighting terrorism. The world our graduating students will enter is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. The rate of change also informed our view. Products like the Flip camera, are launched, acquired, and discontinued in under five years. Governments like Egypt are overthrown using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube all of which were technologies developed in under five years. Given this rate of change and an average undergraduate education spanning between four and five years, we asked ourselves “How do we prepare students for jobs that may not exist today?”.
We spoke to employers, we consulted our national network of advisors and we concluded that we need to both prepare students with relevant professional skills necessary to secure their first job while educating them in critical thinking skills necessary to adapt and excel when the conditions under which they operate shift and change.
Our core curriculum, rooted in design thinking, is designed to educate students with the following core outcomes:
1. Collaborate on multi-disciplinary teams
2. Identify different problem-solving and decision-making styles
3. Appreciation of disciplinary perspectives
4. Gain insights from people, their behaviors and cultural practices to inform a project
5. Evaluate the ways natural and human-made (political, social, cultural, economic) systems both shape and are influenced by new products, services or enterprises
6. Adapt to continually changing professional challenges
7. Integrate knowledge to find new ways of creating value
We feel it is best to offer our students’ reflections. Here are a couple of samples from our freshman. Many of these are comments by non design students about their first experiences with design process:
I have never before been taught in this style, or looked at the world from an observation and insight point of view.I have always tried to apply what I know to solve problems. From this class I have learned, to solve a problem correctly, one must fully understand the problem by observing it first, then thinking about what the meaning of what observed, then coming up with ideas to possibly fix the problem, then finally coming up with the final solution. Before I always looked at the problem and tried to fix it, I didn’t go through all the necessary actions need to solve it correctly. Overall the Integrative design process course has help me organize my thoughts and look at problems from a different prospective that I never thought to look at them from before. (Engineering Student)
The idea of prototyping has really grown on me and I was really interested to learn about just how much of a difference it makes. (Business Student)
Knowledge is no longer an important matter like it used to be centuries ago. We have access to every possible solution on the web. It’s what we do with that knowledge that matters and DEC teaches us to grasp those concepts more tangibly. (Business Student)