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  1. This NSF Grantees poster discusses an early phase Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) project which is designed to address preparing engineering students to address large scale societal problems, the solutions of which integrate multiple disciplinary perspectives. These types of problems are often termed “convergent problems”. The idea of convergence captures how different domains of expertise contribute to solving a problem, but also the value of the network of connections between areas of knowledge that is built in undertaking such activities. While most existing efforts at convergence focus at the graduate and post-graduate levels, this project supports student development of capabilities to address convergent problems in an undergraduate disciplinary-based degree program in electrical and computer engineering. This poster discusses some of the challenges faced in implementing such learning including how to decouple engineering topics from societal concerns in ways that are relevant to undergraduate students yet retain aspects of convergence, negotiations between faculty on ways to balance discipline-specific skills with the breadth required for systemic understanding, and challenges in integrating relevant projects into courses with different faculty and instructional learning goals. One of the features of the project is that it builds on ideas from Communities of Transformation by basing activities on a coherent philosophical model that guides theories of change. The project has adopted Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom or capabilities framework as the organizing philosophy. In this model the freedom for individuals to develop capabilities they value is viewed as both the means and end of development. The overarching goal of the project is then for students to build personalized frameworks based on their value systems which allow them to later address complex, convergent problems. Framework development by individual students is supported in the project through several activities: modifying grading practices to provide detailed feedback on skills that support convergence, eliciting self-narratives from students about their pathways through courses and projects with the goal of developing reflection, and carefully integrating educational software solutions that can reduce some aspects of faculty workload which is hypothesized to enable faculty to focus efforts on integrating convergent projects throughout the curriculum. The poster will present initial results on the interventions to the program including grading, software integration, projects, and narratives. The work presented will also cover an ethnographic study of faculty practices which serves as an early-stage baseline to calibrate longer-term changes. 
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  2. One of the major changes in the higher education ecosystem over the last decade has been a rise in the availability of education-based software products, including education-based web-pages and web-services. Globally the investment in education-based startups in 2017 was $9.5B which surged to $18.7B in 2019 [1]. The COVID-19 pandemic further fueled record investment in this sector, with the US seeing $2.2B invested in 130 startups in 2020, up from $1.7B in 2019 and $1.4B in 2018 (see [2] and [3]). Early indicators show that 2021 will again see further increases [4]. While the majority (92%) of these investments are aimed at consumer and corporate sectors, there is potential for the innovations developed to diffuse into both the P-12 and higher education spaces [5]. What is evident from the investment numbers is that an integration of learning technologies specifically into higher education is progressing at a relatively slower pace [5]. It is the goal of this work-in-progress to identify some of the reasons for this slower progress. Our hypothesis is that, while some of these reasons may be obvious, there are also more subtle and/or counterintuitive reasons for the reduced interest in higher education. The motivation and need for the proposed study grew out of an ongoing NSF RED project where we endeavor to fuse the concept of convergence, loosely defined as “deep integration,” into our undergraduate engineering curriculum. Increasingly software and data systems at colleges and universities, and the affordances they do and do not offer, are integral to university structures. If the respective software systems do not support certain activities and functions then the programs are simply not useful to the faculty [6]. Additionally, any subset of systems needs to seamlessly integrate to form a coherent and usable learning support system that faculty, students, and staff can use without issue and/or barrier. The goal of the proposed activity within our grant is, thus, to build structures to collect, analyze, and display data in support of developing skills in addressing convergent problems. 
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