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Lessons learned in 2020 and plans for 2021, with Ishwar K. Puri and Susan Tighe (Part One)February 4, 2021

In the first episode of 2021 on Big Ideas for a Changing World, we reflect on the gaps in engineering education that have been exposed by the pandemic, and how McMaster is pushing the boundaries.

What positive changes have come from virtual teaching and learning in 2020? What were the challenges?

How did McMaster Engineering make life-like virtual labs possible for our new first-year curriculum?

What have we learned as a faculty and university? 

Ishwar K. Puri, McMaster’s Dean of Engineering, and Susan Tighe, McMaster’s Provost and Vice-President, academic and a member of the Faculty of Engineering, share their thoughts in this two-part episode.

Tighe began her role at McMaster in July 2020, in between waves of the pandemic. She leads McMaster’s Virtual Learning Task Force which set out to understand and bring forward the pressing challenges across the university during the fall term. In November 2020, the task force shared a report with 21 recommendations for the university to enhance the teaching and learning experience, including mental health resources and flexibility in course load.

To me, it's really about planning, acting on the advice of all our stakeholders and recognizing that we're probably not going to do things perfectly the first time. But we're going to listen, we're going to learn and we're going to continue to improve,” Tighe says in the podcast interview. 

In Fall 2020, the Faculty of Engineering launched a new first-year curriculum as part of The Pivot. At the heart of the transformed curriculum is a full-year design course that combines theory, practice and project-based learning from the start. 

We started developing this transformative curriculum about two years ago. It's never been done before – it's been done in small ways at some institutions – but we have about 1100 students now who are participating in this integrated curriculum,” says Puri.  

“I think that we were prescient in anticipating virtualization, we were fortunate to have Quanser as a partner, we had a very broad and flat leadership team – all of that came together and gave us confidence that we could pull it off. 

“As engineers, this is really part of our culture. We're always trying to continually improve, advance and push the boundaries,” adds Tighe. 

Stay tuned for Part Two, where John Preston, associate dean, research & external relations, asks the pressing question: “Will McMaster have in-person classes in the fall, and how?” 

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