History of the Worldwide CDIO Initiative

Returning to Engineering Fundamentals

Engineering education programs throughout much of the 20th century offered students plentiful hands-on practice: Accomplished and experienced engineers taught courses that focused on solving tangible problems.

But as the century progressed and scientific and technical knowledge expanded rapidly, engineering education evolved into the teaching of engineering science. Teaching engineering practice was increasingly de-emphasized.

As a result, industry in recent years has found that graduating students, while technically adept, lack many abilities required in real-world engineering situations.

Major companies created lists of abilities they wanted their engineers to possess (e.g. Boeing's Desired Attributes of an Engineer). To encourage schools to meet real world needs and rethink their educational strategies, the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology, ABET, listed its expectations for graduating engineers.

Industry and ABET had identified the destination; it was up to educators to plan the route. Faced with the gap between scientific and practical engineering demands, the educators took up the challenge to reform engineering education. The result of the endeavor is the worldwide CDIO Initiative.

Creating the CDIO Initiative

The first task in designing a new educational program was compiling a list of abilities needed by engineers. To do this, focus groups consisting of industry representatives, engineering faculty and other academics, university review committees, and alumni were formed. The groups were asked: “What are the knowledge, skills and attitudes that the graduating engineer should possess?”  and their responses were analyzed (sample survey and survey data summary).

The results from the focus groups were blended with a wish list made by industry and educators  and created the first draft of a new syllabus. Looking at the CDIO Syllabus it’s seen that the top levels of the outline match the definition of the Essential Functions of an Engineer:

Graduating engineers should be able to:

  • Conceive-design-implement-operate (Level 4 – CDIO)
  • Manage complex value-added engineering systems (Level 1 – Technical)
  • Collaborate in a modern team-based environment (Level 3 – Interpersonal)
  • Grow into mature and thoughtful individuals (Level 2 – Personal)

As each of these syllabus levels were broken down into sublevels, a decision was required of how proficient the students need to become in each area. The focus groups were asked to support with that. It was interesting to note that despite the diversity of those surveyed, everyone’s prioritizing of proficiencies was startlingly similar.

The CDIO Syllabus v1 was ‘born’ in 2001 and the CDIO Standards designed and Initiative formed in 2004. The first Conference was organized by Qeen’s University Canada in 2005 and just after the first regions in Europe, North America and UK-Ireland was shaped.

In 2014 the CDIO Initiative celebrates its 10th anniversary, has been adopted by over a 100 schools within aerospace, applied physics, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering. In June 15-19, the 10th International CDIO Conference will be hosted by UPC Barcelona.


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