Innovative Excellent Engineering Education at Scale

Programs and Tools

The Grainger College of Engineering is both one of the strongest and largest colleges of engineering in the country.  Our commitment to excellent engineering education at scale has led to a broad range of innovations, programs, and tools that meet the needs of a modern engineering education.  Some examples include:

  • The iClicker student response system was developed to effectively implement Peer Instruction in large introductory Physics courses at Illinois.  Now a commercial venture, iClickers are used in over 1,100 institutions around the world.
  • The Computer-Based Testing Facility (CBTF) runs 12 hours a day, seven days a week to enable convenient, scalable, secure, and authentic assessment for some of the largest courses in Engineering.  It runs over 50,000 exams for 6000 student over 30 courses per semester.
  • The Engineers SPEAK program supplements the teaching of communication skills throughout the Grainger College of Engineering, including students in capstone design courses, students in the undergraduate research opportunities program, and graduate teaching assistants.
  • The Cancer Scholars Program is a unique, interdisciplinary student learning experience motivated by societal challenges and incorporates real-world experiences to inspire learning.
  • The iOLab personal wireless lab systems contain a wide variety of sensors that connect wirelessly to students’ computers where software can acquire and display data in real time.


Open-source Educational Projects

Open-source software plays an important role in our educational strategy and it is emblematic of Illinois’ collaborative culture.  

  • PrairieLearn is an online problem-driven learning system for creating homeworks and tests. It allows questions to be written using arbitrary HTML/JavaScript/Python, thus enabling very powerful questions that can randomize and autograde themselves, and can access client- and server-side libraries to handle tasks such as graphical drawing, symbolic algebra, and student code compilation and execution.
  • The Queue is an open-source microservice developed for holding open office hours.  At Illinois, the queue has been used by 10% of the student body and has facilitated over 40,000 student questions during office hours, drop-in advising, and in-classroom active learning.
  • randexam is a system for generating and grading randomized Scantron multiple-choice exams from a library of questions.

Many of these innovations were initiated or supported through the Grainger College of Engineering’s Strategic Instructional Innovations Program (SIIP).  This is a competitive grant program that funds about 15 faculty teams each year to improve the educational experience for students. These teams are supported by eight experienced faculty acting as Education Innovation Fellows, who connect teams and spread ideas. The SIIP program operates under the adage of “teach like you do research,” meaning not only using iterative, evidence-based decision making but also engaging in a scholarly, collaborative community that pushes each individual member toward excellence. For more details, see Herman et al. (2018) “Changing the teaching culture in introductory STEM courses at a large research university”.