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From the Head: 7/28

Entrepreneurial ENE

Over the past two years, the Purdue administration has vigorously promoted entrepreneurship with a focus on commercialization of intellectual property. This move was signaled in early 2013 by the hiring of Dan Hasler to be the president of the Purdue Research Foundation and to hold the newly created role of Chief Entrepreneurship Officer. Subsequently it has been reinforced by the creation of the Purdue Foundry, the increase in hours for the Artisan and Fabrication Laboratory and numerous other initiatives. A recent article in Purdue today celebrating a record-breaking year in commercialization provides a list of these initiatives focused on fostering entrepreneurship at Purdue.

Our school has many very creative and imaginative individuals. Together we have brought into being numerous innovative courses, a first-of type graduate program, and facilities like the Ideas to Innovation Learning Laboratory. There is an entrepreneurial spirit within ENE. We have also studied entrepreneurship. Yet I am not sure we see ourselves collectively as being entrepreneurial.

In an environment that is encouraging research outcomes to be put to maximum effect in producing positive, transformative impacts in society we need to ask what this means for ENE. We have enormous potential to convert our educational research into tangible products and services that could help to tackle some of the really pressing questions of our time around the future of higher education, and education more generally and of the role of engineering in society.

Do we need to acknowledge our entrepreneurial nature more explicitly? Should identify as being entrepreneurial and make it a central element of our story; as a defining part of who we are and what we do? Should we pay more attention to celebrating our entrepreneurial accomplishments and to projecting this aspect of our being? Of course, being entrepreneurial and translating educational ideas into products or services does not necessarily imply commercialization in the narrow sense of turning research into dollars. We can choose to be social entrepreneurs.

There is growing interest amongst ENE faculty to learn how to become more entrepreneurial in converting their research into more tangible outcomes. For example, Monica Cox successfully completed the Purdue Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy program in 2013-14; Sean Brophy and Brent Jesiek have been accepted into the academy for 2014-15 and several other faculty have expressed interest in this program.

A number of faculty are taking products or services based on their research or proven teaching innovations to the “market place” in a variety of ways. Examples include Matt Ohland’s CATME team formation software, Monica Cox’s Global Real-time Assessment Tool for Teaching Enhancement (G-RATE) and Krishna Madhavan’s Deep Insights Anywhere, Anytime (DIA2). Other faculty and staff have been developing educational tools and techniques with significant potential.

Working with other educational groups at Purdue and beyond, ENE has the potential to make a significant impact in educational technology and learning analytics associated with the move to hybrid, online learning. As the initial hype surrounding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) subsides, the real opportunities in this space are becoming clearer. They center on having access to enormous amounts of data about how students access and use online learning materials. Put crudely, it is about having instrumented learners whose every keystroke is known. Just as social media platforms and online retailers use what they learn about the online behavior of consumer to personalize advertising, so the opportunity exists to personalize learning through understanding how our students learn.

As an example, research conducted by ENE faculty and students over many years on a variety of aspects of learning and assessment combined with the data opportunity afforded by the “flipped lecture” offers a powerful platform from which to provide evidence on ways to transform learning for the individual student in large institutions. It also has the potential to make a significant contribution to the national policy conversation around the cost of higher education.

This raises a critical question around entrepreneurship. How do we most effectively manage the polarities between the needs of the focused individual academic entrepreneur or small research team in the near term and the potential to make much larger impacts collectively as ENE through aggregating research findings or designing larger more integrated studies over the longer term? This is a strategic, ENE 2.0 question we need to tackle.