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Following their nose.

Having officially inaugurated its 12m [pounds sterling] 'Future Technology Centre', the University of Portsmouth has just taken on the third cohort of undergraduates in the multidisciplinary innovation engineering course that is designed to allow students to direct their own learning path

After moving in to the new building this year, both students and the local community will be able to draw on a full suite of resources that includes formal and informal meeting spaces, simulation capability, sophisticated digital collaboration tools, 3D printers and CT scanners.

Course leader Dr Jovana Radulovic, associate head of the school of mechanical and design engineering, says that the space was designed to complement the university's well established conventional courses in mechanical, civil, design and electronic engineering, which she says tend to produce specialised graduates who may find work in multidisciplinary teams in later life challenging.

She explains: "I personally have, throughout my career, been fascinated by how different students learn differently. What works for one doesn't work for another. That's human nature." She recalls that during her time as course leader In mechanical engineering, she would occasionally run across students with so many interests that she felt they were wasted on a conventional programme. "I was inspired by my students to create a better, more engaging, course."

So innovation engineering offers few lectures. The vast majority of delivery is problem-based practice, including practicals and experimentation, so that students become what she calls 'active participants' in learning. The work is often conducted in teams, within the context of a select group; the first intake was 10, and now averages about 20 per year. Topics include electronics, data analysis and materials engineering. For a second-year project on robotics in medicine, for example, students choose the direction of travel. They have to come up with a new idea, evaluate its feasibility from business as well as ethical standpoints, consider legislation and policy relative the market, and then design and produce the technical specification of the solution. The third year includes work on an individual project. "They can choose virtually any direction that they want to go in," points out Radulovic. An extra fourth-year integrated masters add-on includes modules on advanced surface science and structural bioengineering.

Just as the course challenges students, it also makes novel demands of the faculty. Radulovic adds: "From my experience, I could be teaching mechanics to 200 students, or, in innovation engineering, work with 20. It's a completely different way of co-producing teaching with students."

Housing and supporting this activity is a special-purpose space, technically a wing of another campus building: that is the FTC. "We wanted students to have exposure to state-of-the-art technology. And when they work in teams, to have access to numerous university and other resources. They could run a simulation, access the library, or pool their resources for designing a device. It's important that is in a space that facilitates teamwork."

The ground floor consists of a laboratory space with equipment specially chosen not to replicate what already exists on the campus. So it houses a multi-material 3D printer, at the time one of the first in the UK, and a metal 3D printer using a sintering process. As these machines produce novel materials, the lab also houses material characterisation tools including micro computed tomography (CT) scanners to evaluate those structures.

The first and second floors house teaching spaces. They are not lecture halls, but furniture and equipment designed to facilitate collaborative work: tables with monitors and connections for a variety of devices, from phones to laptops. A/V equipment enables students to share their work visually with others on that floor, or elsewhere. There are social spaces with sofas where students can meet informally.

The third floor offers a computing lab, with workstations powerful enough to run simulations relatively quickly.

The fourth floor is a space that was designed through a cooperation between the university and the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a consortium of local businesses, to allow them access to FTC equipment--and students. Radulovic describes It as a hub, where businesses can have meetings and do consultancy and even CPD.

She concludes: "Multidisciplinary teaching is not new. But this course is a true hybrid. It is not trying to cram everything from all branches of engineering into one. On the contrary, we are selecting the most valuable elements, skills and knowledge of several disciplines in a comprehensive way."


Although still relatively unusual, provision of innovation engineering courses is growing in the UK. Established courses include a two-year double masters run jointly by Imperial and RCA (Innovation Design Engineering), as well as Queen Mary's University of London (Design, Innovation and Creative Engineering at BEng and MEng level) and the Open University's Design and Innovation BA or BSc course. New this academic year is UCL's offering for graduates, Engineering with Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Outside London, there is the Innovation and Technology Management course in Bath. Also new is Cardiff's Manufacturing Engineering Innovation Management MSc course.

Caption: Each storey of the FTC offers different resources

Caption: The FTC's campus elevation
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Publication:Engineering Designer
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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