June 18, 2014

Wentworth Hosts Sixth Annual Polytechnic Summit

Polytechnic Summit attendees took in a private tour of Fenway Park

Employing the theme of “Who Moved My Classroom? Rethinking Polytechnic Education,” the 2014 Polytechnic Summit, hosted by Wentworth Institute of Technology on June 11 and 12, drew participants from colleges across the country, including Purdue University, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Suffolk University. The event featured close to 50 paper presentations, 11 panels and workshops, and more than 60 poster presentations. Southern Polytechnic State University, University of Wisconsin-Stout, and EMC served as co-sponsors.

The two-day forum focused on the idea of moving beyond a traditional classroom setting and working intelligently with accelerated changes in society, the economy, and technology. Among the many discussion topics were competency-based college degrees, massive open online courses (MOOCs), the rising cost of college, career preparation, and Wentworth’s EPIC learning model. Linda Schott, president of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and Woodie Flowers, Pappalardo Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, were the keynote speakers.

Flowers discussed his experiences in rethinking the traditional classroom and preparing students for career success. “Our classroom is not the only thing that’s moved,” he said. “The world is changing, and we need students to be able to do things that machines cannot yet do.”

Flowers described the rapid evolution of technology, noting that today’s high-school student “can do things with much more precision than I could have done at that age.” He also noted, however, that students need to be properly trained and that teamwork during the educational process, including working across multiple disciplines, is vital to long-term success. Once students leave the college setting, he said, they must continue to work in this manner as accelerated changes shape the world.

“Lifelong learning used to be a luxury,” he said. “Now it’s a necessity.” 

In her address, Schott discussed proficiency-based learning. Earlier this year, Schott introduced the proficiency-based model—which requires students to demonstrate a mastery of certain predetermined skills before they can continue their academic careers—at her institution.

“How can we teach proficiency in some areas and not others?” Schott asked. “Isn’t all education important? We want students to be proficient in everything they do.”

Schott described the 10 principles her school employs for proficiency-based learning, including students demonstrating learning progress and achievement in multiple ways through more personalized pathways; changing work habits; and allowing multiple opportunities to improve work.

“Proficiency-based education is the next big thing, and we are moving ahead with a great deal of excitement and confidence in our students,” she said.

The seventh annual Polytechnic Summit will take place in June 2015, when the University of Wisconsin-Stout hosts the event.

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