Honor Board: Inclusion

What does the Honor Board even do? Some people think that when a case happens, the Honor Board has the power to decide what the sanctions are. That isn’t what actually occurs. The Honor Board’s role in cases is closer to mediators than adjudicators. Honor Board members are involved in collecting information for a case and handling the logistics, but we do not actually have any decision-making power. Determination of responsibility and of sanctions is decided by the Hearing Panel, a group of four students selected from a larger pool of trained students (although this semester’s pool isn’t as large as they tend to be (plug: get trained!)). Additionally, there are checks in the Panel selection process and sanction implementation process, so the idea of either the Board or the Panel having too much power doesn’t hold water. Still, it’s understandable that some people are skeptical and distrustful of the Honor Board. If your experience with the Honor Board is interacting with us for cases, and especially if you are unhappy with how the case was handled, then you’ll have a very particular perception of the Honor Board.
The Honor Board has been trying, for many semesters, to become more involved in the everyday lives of students. We want to become approachable to the student body as a whole. Rather than only being needed in times of crisis, the Honor Board should be a place for students to turn to no matter the circumstances. We are a living breathing organization and as such, we want to reevaluate our role on campus and what we can give to the student body. To achieve this end, this semester we decided on the goal to “position the Honor Board as supporters of inclusion” on campus.
As you may have noticed, the Honor Board earlier this semester put out a box asking students what parts of their identity they feel they can’t show on campus. From those responses, we grouped several similar ones into larger categories and then showed the breakdown of those categories in a pie chart shown in the dining hall. We also created a word cloud of the responses, which you can see below:


This chart represents our 52 responses. We noticed a trend of students feeling that they could not share their conservatism, religious beliefs, national identity, and introversion, to name a few. Many students also expressed how their identity has changed since arriving at Olin and were not sure how to communicate those changes. In creating spaces for these students to not only express but also to uncover their identity, we hope that we are able to create a more inclusive community at Olin.
Of course, we don’t expect that this conversation ends with us or with this article. As such, we will be holding a conversation about identity at Olin on Wednesday December 7th at 7-8:30pm in the library. We expect this to be an open conversation based in the information we have already gathered from the student body along with other insights you are willing to share with us. It will be formatted as a drop-in session, so feel free to come by whenever you can. We will also be sending out an email with the following article so that we can get your feedback on it and have this conversation be an ongoing one. As always, please feel free to reach out to anyone on the board or come to our open meetings Tuesday during lunch in CC 210.

Honor Code Rewrite + Town Hall

Reading the Honor Code can sometimes take hours and it’s extremely confusing, but the Honor Board has been working hard this semester to end this. On April 7th, we’ll be having a Town Hall meeting where we’ll be voting on the following proposed changes:
Honor Code ≠ Honor Board: Do elections procedures come to mind when we say Honor Code? Yep, I thought not. Well, we agree! This amendment removes sections 5, 7-8 from the Honor Code, since these sections deal with the Honor Board as an organization and are better suited in the student government bylaws. This amendment is contingent on the Student Government voting in these sections into the bylaws, so that the Honor Board doesn’t get stuck in a lawless limbo (no one would want that).The Honor Code now only includes our mission, the values, hearing procedures, appeals, and amendment procedures (and is now only 8 pages instead of 20!).
A Re-write: Where we try and make the procedures easier to understand. Featuring: a glossary section! All of the actual content of our procedures stays the same but they are now much easier to understand.
Appeals: This amendment takes what StAR and the Honor Board already follow as the Appeals procedure and actually puts it into the Honor Code. Instead of being buried in the depths of the student handbook, the appeals procedure can now easily be found in the Honor Code itself.
Title IX: This amendment removes the Honor Board’s involvement in Title IX cases. Title IX cases would not be filed directly through the Honor Board anymore, but rather through StAR and/or any relevant outside authorities. We propose this amendment because we do not feel we are sufficiently qualified to hear these cases. Additionally, the expectation from the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education (the office that oversees Title IX) is that students not have a role in Title IX related cases. We understand that this revision could be very controversial and are happy to answer any questions.
Get ready to vote on all these things (and have mountains of snacks, because who are we kidding, no one comes to things if they don’t have snacks) and the next Town Hall Meeting on April 7th at 7pm (that’s in a week!). And here’s our preemptive apology for the number of all student emails that are going to come your way in the next couple of days. (#sorrynotsorry)

Creating Streams at Olin

Here’s a question for you: what did you learn when you sketched bugs in Parcel B with a group of your classmates during the first week of Design Nature? I’d venture to guess that your drawing skills didn’t improve much, you didn’t learn anything particularly earth-shattering about bugs, and you didn’t develop a better understanding of how to build a biomimetic hopping toy. So why was the assignment important?

Less than a week into the design curriculum at Olin, you were exposed to the idea that design doesn’t happen in isolation; it takes into account both context and society. You can’t just sit in your design studio building Solidworks models; you have to interact with the outside world. That’s the contextual part – design interacts with, depends on, and is inspired by the real world. You’re also required to work with your peers. That’s the social part – design isn’t individual; it depends on collaboration and communication even within an individual project.

A year and a half later, UOCD spirals back to the idea that design doesn’t happen in isolation. This time you spend the entire semester interfacing with a group of people to understand them and how to design to help them. You’re studying a different part of the design process than you did in Design Nature, but what you’re doing is still rooted in the idea that design can’t happen solely in the studio.

The way design works at Olin is starkly different from the way a traditional engineering education is structured. Ben Linder uses the word “layers” to describe the traditional curricular approach: students start by taking a math class, layer a physics class on top of that knowledge, and then eventually have the opportunity to take an engineering design class. He uses the word “stream” to describe what happens in Olin’s design curriculum: students take several classes about design, and each subsequent one builds on a set of core ideas.

Ben feels that a layer curriculum focuses on credentials and on authority. In that kind of environment, students are treated like they are unqualified until they complete the last layer, meaning students often don’t identify as engineers until graduation. By contrast, a stream curriculum makes each student a “professional engineer from day one,” which University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) refers to as ‘The Olin Effect.’ You come into the design stream an engineer, you are appreciated and respected throughout the curriculum, and you leave an engineer with more experience.

Ben says it’s “much healthier to engage a subject at an intermediate level over a long period of time than to have an intense introduction that ends early.” He thinks that streams might be a better model for the way people learn: we probably don’t build knowledge in layers; instead, we fit new pieces of information into the framework of what we already know, drawing as many connections between concepts as we can (if you’re curious about this, check out Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Constructivism). If you’re learning math, physics, and design at the same time in the same course, you can’t help but draw connections between them, but if you take math and physics during your first year and design during your fourth, it might be difficult to see how they relate.

Ben also believes that a stream curriculum facilitates a culture of feedback – in his words, “if you think experienced people know what’s best, you don’t ask students for feedback, but if [students] have standing, then you can take advantage of the most obvious fact… there is no other group of people who know the experience better than the students who are currently having the experience.”

Most engineering schools don’t cover much design, especially beyond engineering design, which left Olin no choice other than to experiment with how to teach it. By contrast, analysis is traditionally a big part of engineering education, so there’s a well-established, content-driven process for teaching it. Just look at the course titles – any engineering educator knows what you mean when you say you’re taking “Dynamics” or “Differential Equations”. The established way might not be the best way, though: Mark Somerville thinks a stream model could benefit the analysis curriculum as well.

Mark and other faculty members have been thinking about analysis education at Olin. Mark observes that students tend to graduate with more confidence in their design skills than in their analysis skills. He attributes that outcome in part to the the design stream, which he views as one of Olin’s real successes – it’s a “set of experiences students have over the course of four years that explicitly relate to each other, enabling them to build a set of capacities”. He thinks there might be a way to do something similar with a different set of courses.

They hope to run an experiment next year which allows first-years to opt into a 16 credit pilot version of an analysis stream (8 in the spring, 8 the following fall) to replace Linearity I and II, the physics foundation course, and either Dynamics or Signals and Systems. Ideally, the analysis stream might extend beyond two semesters, but a two-semester pilot makes sense both because it doesn’t interfere with too much of the curriculum and because an experiment with a one-year duration can run a complete cycle every year.

Our goal is to start a conversation about what continuing to explore the concept of streams would do to the way we think about Olin’s curricular experience. Streams might not need to be academic: imagine if you took Engineering for Humanity, Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship, and rounded if off with involvement in SERV. Could that be considered a “service stream”? What streams do you think already exist, even if we haven’t thought of them that way? How would the curriculum change if every course was part of a stream?