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Purdue’s Breadth at the Edges Initiative

Technology development today involves an increasingly broad range of science and engineering that requires both depth and breadth. One does not have to be an expert in everything, but “breadth at the edges” is needed. Each expert on a team needs to understand the work of the other experts on the team. In a new initiative, faculty at Purdue University in Electrical and Computer Engineering are developing a suite of short, 1-credit courses to address this need. The courses will be offered on the West Lafayette campus, online to students pursuing MS degrees, and to students across the world through the edX platform.

In past years, one might have argued that there was little value to 1-credit courses because little can be taught and by the time a person needs it, even less will be remembered. Today, however, a 1-credit course need not teach everything. It should be designed simply to provide students with a serious introduction to and roadmap for the field so that when needed, they can draw upon the extensive online resources that are now available.

For example the Internet of Things is making antennas ubiquitous, so that all electronics designers could benefit from a basic familiarity with the topic that a well-designed 1-credit course could provide.  Such a course is, of course, no substitute for the 6 to 9 credits needed to train an antenna designer. But this multi-semester training is needed only for a small fraction of the workforce. To be effective it is also important that these 1-credit courses not require a long string of prerequisites, thereby helping students acquire the breadth needed in today’s multi-disciplinary environment.

One-credit courses of this type are likely to become a more and more important part of an on-campus and continuing education. By providing a general framework for a topic, they can serve as “intellectual glue” that ties together and makes useful the vast and growing set of educational resources available on the web.

The first set of courses in this initiative will be offered in the fall of 2018: