All Illinois Tech students should be familiar with the Interprofessional Project (IPRO) program, wherein all Illinois Tech students take at least two courses as a graduation requirement where they work with an interdisciplinary team of other students from various majors to solve a real-world problem. Since its initial conception in 1995, the program has seen various changes in its structure and implementation.
Such changes make total sense, after all. As a program designed to expose students to real-world problem solving and teamwork, it is only right that it changes as the field of work also continues to evolve. In order to best prepare Illinois Tech students for the professional world, one could argue that it is vital that IPRO continues to iterate upon itself. Thus, IPRO Director Jeremy Alexis and IPRO Program Coordinator Rima Kuprys sat down for a brief interview with TechNews to outline some upcoming changes and proposals for the future of IPRO.
The first matter discussed concerned a core source of dissatisfaction among many students with the IPRO program: signing up for a course that fits one’s schedule only to find it is incongruent with one’s interests and background. While there had been an original concept of primarily carving out Thursday nights and Friday mornings to be exclusively for IPRO courses, this approach also met opposition as obligations such as athletics or jobs meant many students could not even sign up for an IPRO in the limited day options, despite the times being slotted exclusively for IPRO. In addition, it was quickly discovered that having upwards of 350 students working in the Kaplan Institute at the same time was simply infeasible due to the noise levels generated.
Thus, students who are registering for an IPRO in the upcoming fall 2019 semester will notice a change in its structure and registration. Instead of choosing from a list of over 40 IPRO sections, students will instead choose from seven Workshop sections, spread across the week at various times and days. These seven sections all have broad topical names, such as “Energy and Environmental Innovation” or “Community Engagement and Social Innovation.”
Thus, instead of immediately picking a specific project to join during registration, students will instead pick the broad topical area they want. Once in this section, students will then have the option of either choosing from a set of predefined projects within that topic area or to develop their own project based on the subject area. In addition, students will also get to choose from being on either a “hands on” team that primarily builds prototypes and does other applied work or a “research and theory” team that instead looks to conduct scholarly research on the relevant subject area to supplement the hands on work.
In addition to the large section options there will be a few smaller IPRO courses run by full-time faculty. These IPROs are continuing projects from previous semesters and include work on telescopes with DescriptionInternational Business Machines (IBM) Watson and a competition collaboration between biology and biomedical engineering (BME).
Alexis described to TechNews how this new funneling approach lends itself to students being able to work on projects much more in line with their professional and personal interests, as well as de-emphasizing the outcome orientation of many current IPROs and instead allowing students to “do their own problem framing and have the tools to make meaningful progress.” With the implementation of this change in fall 2019, Alexis is “super confident that this will be a positive experience for students.”
The second IPRO change discussed by Alexis and Kuprys is much further down the line, still being in its initial pilot phase with full implementation being possibly a year or more away. This change would affect virtually every major offered by the university, as every college’s dean and their academic chairs would work with the IPRO department to adjust and re-designate certain courses as what would be known as an “iCourse.”
An iCourse would be a regular major course that has been adjusted to be more in-line with the applied work of an IPRO and would, in addition to counting towards one’s major progress, also grant IPRO course credits. Thus, a student that takes enough iCourses would, for instance, have gained enough credits to only have to take one actual IPRO instead of two. This would open up additional classes for students to take instead of another IPRO as well as exposing them to more hands-on work in their core major classes.
It should be reiterated that the iCourse program is still a work-in-progress, entering a pilot phase in the fall semester with a select number of iCourses across various departments being tested. Alexis made it clear that a cohort of over 20 faculty members have been working to identify courses possibly eligible for iCourse re-designation and that this is very much an in-tandem process between IPRO and the individual academic colleges. In the ideal best-case scenario, iCourses would be fully implemented in the fall of 2020, but this is very contingent upon how its pilot is received.
Of course, it only makes sense that changes meant to make IPRO a better experience for students are also subject to student input and feedback. Anyone looking to share any thoughts about either the fall 2019 changes to the IPRO section and registration process or the iCourse pilot program are encouraged to email the IPRO program at [email protected]