Integrated Learning Centre: the Vision

The Challenge

Engineering practice is changing - and that means engineering education must change as well. At Smith Engineering and Applied Science, we prepare our graduates for increasingly rigorous expectations, including:

  • a shorter learning curve for achieving professional competence.
  • enhanced professional skills, in addition to a strong foundation in theory
  • the ability to work with, and learn from, engineers in other disciplines and other fields such as business and economics
  • lifelong learning skills
  • awareness of the societal impact of engineering activities

Adaptability and independent thinking are becoming as essential as scientific knowledge. Our challenge is to prepare our students to meet the increasing demands of the profession and society at large in a four-year program, while maintaining our existing mathematical, scientific and technological content.

Queen's Solution

The McConnell Curriculum Development Awards were instrumental in financially supporting the development of new engineering curriculum. With curriculum explicitly suited to the Integrated Learning Centre (ILC), we are rising to the challenge. This enhanced curriculum retains the rigorous lectures for which a Smith Engineering degree is so respected, while providing our students with the additional skills required to contribute in today's society.

The ILC is essential to the successful implementation of the redesigned elements of our curriculum. This multidisciplinary learning environment complements the classroom experience, enhancing design, team and professional skills development.

For the students, the ILC is a professional work place complementing the classroom experience by providing the offices, meeting rooms, design space, project space, manufacturing facilities and multimedia facilities in which they can integrate material from different sources and practice the skills needed to elevate theory to practice.

For the instructors, the ILC is a place to try other ways of teaching and learning; a place where flexible teaching spaces, work spaces and presentation spaces can be reconfigured to suit the needs of the class.

For Smith Engineering at Queen's, the ILC integrates the Faculty's teaching in those areas where it is beneficial to do so. In the ILC, members of all Departments in the Faculty (and some outside of it) collaborate in offering courses of relevance to several programs, providing students with a broader understanding of engineering principles and practice than any one department can provide.

For employers, the ILC offers opportunities to work with, supervise and evaluate a broad range of students in project work, and to help Queen's develop more effective educational facilities and methods to develop improved communication, team, and lifelong learning skills.

For society, the ILC offers a superb opportunity for outreach, for showcasing technology, and for attracting young people to careers in engineering.

All of these aspects of the ILC interact, each in some way helped by the others and contributing, in turn, to the success of the others.

Impact on Students

Integrated Learning impacts many aspects of student life with results including:

  • Integration of knowledge from different courses: Modularised laboratories allow for flexible projects that challenge the students to combine theoretical material from different courses.
  • Integration across disciplines: Jointly offered, multidisciplinary projects give students a wider understanding of the application of theory and more insight into other science and engineering fields.
  • Integration with industry: Integrated Learning strengthens the bridge between the University and the external community, giving students more projects that mirror professional practice.
  • Integration across years: Through the use of upper year mentors and collaborative efforts in projects, students can enrich other students' educational experiences.
  • Integration of professional skills development with rigorous theoretical instruction: Open-ended, real-world engineering design problems all have a social component that must be understood and considered when designing a solution. Students receive explicit instruction in professional skills to help them.


Integrated Learning is an important initiative in Smith Engineering at Queen's that dramatically enhances the delivery of engineering education at Queen's University. It combines a new learning facility with a fundamentally restructured curriculum to prepare graduates for the challenges and complexities of the engineering profession of the 21st century. The Integrated Learning initiative positions Queen's as a leader in engineering education worldwide.

Where did it come from?

Changes in society, the workplace, and educational practice require engineering educators to accommodate diverging trends in the needs of educated engineers. These trends include:

  • An exponential growth in knowledge that has led to an explosion of curriculum material, heavier course loads, and an increasing trend to specialisation within engineering programs.
  • A shorter learning curve. Fast-paced technology-driven organisations require graduates who are capable of entering practice with shorter training cycles.
  • The need for integration across different disciplines. The complexity of engineering problems requires that engineers have an ability to work with, and learn from, engineers in other disciplines and specialties, and ¬†to acquire additional skills and knowledge in fields as diverse as business and philosophy.
  • A desire for breadth and enhanced professional skills. There is an increased demand by the profession for coupling a strong foundation in theory with the acquisition of professional skills such as critical analysis, adaptability, independent thinking, and effective communication and team skills.
  • The need for established lifelong learning skills. These skills make graduates more effective in both practice and further study.
  • The need for an appreciation of the context within which engineering is applied. Engineers must be conscious of the complex social implications of their work.

Integrated Learning addresses these societal challenges on an ongoing basis. It develops professional skills within a four-year program, without alteration to the mathematical, scientific, and technological content of the programs.

Development of the Concept 

Through testing new pedagogical methods in our own courses at Queen's, careful scrutiny of professional studies of engineering education in Canada and abroad, and interaction with engineering schools in Australia, Europe, and the United States, we have developed an effective strategy for dealing with these challenges. We have also solicited suggestions from our graduates. Both groups stressed the importance of giving students increased experience in integrating material from different sources, and more opportunities to develop the skills needed to transfer theory to practice.

Some universities have tried to satisfy these needs by adding a fifth year to the four-year undergraduate program, but a full fifth year solution is costly to the student and society. A work internship is one possible use of a fifth year, and Queen's, like many other universities, offers this opportunity to upper-year students. While professional skills can be acquired during an internship, the set of skills acquired, and the quality and consistency of the experience, are hard to control.

Through the Integrated Learning initiative, we have strategically redesigned the undergraduate learning experience to make it more relevant, more effective, more efficient, and more reflective of individual learning styles. Students work in teams on problems starting in first year. By final year, students are immersed in real problems provided by industry and government.

Through guided practice, students learn the skills of teamwork, communications, problem-solving and self-directed learning. The Integrated Learning initiative significantly enhances these skills and attitudes on campus, in four years, in a systematic way for every student in Applied Science.

Present Day Integrated Learning at Queen's

The following are examples of Integrated Learning at Queen's. They help further describe the Integrated Learning development process and provide a glimpse into the kinds of activities that will take place in the new Integrated Learning Centre.

TEAM (APSC 400) - The First Step

The Technology, Engineering And Management (TEAM) program was a pioneer in integrated learning. Started by Barrie Jackson in 1995 and now run by David Mody, this fourth year project course originally included students from Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Business to work on real-world engineering problems provided by industrial partners. It is now open to Law and to other engineering disciplines.

APSC 100 - Where We Are Now

The idea of open-ended projects has now been incorporated into the core first year engineering course 'Practical Engineering Modules'. Teams of four students are presented with a practical, open-ended engineering design problem, and are given ten weeks to develop a solution. Each team also gives two progress update presentations and submits a final engineering report.

APSC 381 and APSC 480

Together, these courses comprise the interdisciplinary design stream, created by David Strong. Working in groups of students from different programs, the students learn basic concepts of engineering design and then apply these to real-world design projects offered by industry clients.