The main elements of the NEET transformation are its project-centric curriculum and its organization in “threads” around a series of projects focused on new machines and systems that integrate the NEET Ways of Thinking.
The term “machines and systems” is used generally to describe all things that engineers build, including mechanical, molecular, biological, informational and energetic constructs.
Starting in their sophomore year and continuing through the entire MIT undergraduate experience, NEET students work on a series of increasingly complex projects while maintaining progress toward a degree. Students earn a degree in their chosen major and are simultaneously awarded a NEET Certificate in their chosen thread, within the usual four years.
Participants are prepared to work as the engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs who will build the new machines that will address societal needs of the 21st century.
The Project-Centric Approach
The current state of engineering education is typically based on a subject-centric approach to learning. A curriculum is mapped out in advance as a sequence of classes of increasing specialization, with prerequisites suggesting a structure (class 2, follows class 1, etc.). The dominant method of evaluation is closed-ended problem solving. In this context, projects tend to be viewed as supplemental and occur within courses or as stand-alone capstones.
NEET offers a project-centric approach in which project work is the organizing principle of the program. Students choose a “thread” of explicitly interdepartmental courses and projects, while fundamentals continue to come from departmental requirements. Since threads run across departmental and school boundaries, students form a cohort that coalesces around shared projects. Evaluation is based on both subjects and projects. Students typically participate in one project per year starting as sophomores, and their projects require increasing depth and professionalism as they progress.
NEET values not only the acquisition of knowledge, but the demonstrated ability to apply that knowledge. Projects are not intended for unguided discovery—they are carefully scaffolded with learning outcomes that reflect disciplinary learning outcomes. They also have progressive deliverables to maintain a more even cadence of student effort.
Projects are the primary instruments for learning about making, discovering, systems, and creativity. Personal coaching also creates a progression of experiences from group skills to interpersonal skills to leadership. Other progressions could, for example, expose the students to increasingly more complex computation, and increasingly more realistic non-technical issues of product, market, regulation, and societal good.
NEET Ways of Thinking
The projects also require students to take on significant responsibilities for meeting their learning objectives based on the NEET Ways of Thinking, cognitive approaches such as creative thinking, critical thinking and systems thinking that can help students to more effectively think and learn on their own initiative, throughout their lifetime.
The NEET Ways of Thinking are being implemented through cross-School partnerships. NEET has identified resource experts from across the Institute to help develop modules for the NEET Ways of Thinking that will be piloted in the NEET projects and seminars. Four modules are being developed, three of which have been awarded funding by the d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education:
- Personal skills and attitudes, led by the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy and the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program
- Self-learning, led by the MIT Libraries
- Critical thinking, led by the Department of Science, Technology & Society
- Creative thinking, led by the Department of Architecture
Discussions have begun with the program on entrepreneurship and innovation to better integrate those skills into the NEET projects, and grant funding has been received to create a digital project environment for the digital native students in NEET.
A NEET thread is an interdisciplinary path that students embark on beginning in their sophomore year. Built around the machines, materials, and systems driving modern industry practices and research methods, each thread gives students unprecedented opportunities to immerse themselves in projects that cross disciplinary boundaries while earning a degree in their chosen major.
NEET’s current threads are:
- Autonomous Machines
- Living Machines
- Digital Cities
- Renewable Energy Machines
- Advanced Materials Machines