Edward F. Crawley

Ford Professor of Engineering at MIT
Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics and of Engineering Systems

MIT Professional Education Short Programs course: Systems Engineering and Architecture: Principles, Models, Tools, and Applications

When professionals sign up for MIT Professional Education’s Short Programs in the summer, they get more than experts in subject areas—they get innovative teachers. In fact, Professor Edward Crawley, who will teach this summer’s Systems Engineering and Architecture course, just received the nation’s most prestigious engineering education prize.

This award, the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, honors Crawley’s years of inventing new educational programs. Since he specializes in systems architecture, he naturally applied systems methodology to the problem of defining excellence in engineering education. He and colleagues developed a framework that maps out a dozen dimensions that lead to improvements in teaching and learning—and then put them into practice.

Crawley points to active learning in the classroom as one of the dimensions. Through the 1960-80s, chalk and talk was considered good teaching, he says. “We learned that when you stand and talk to people showing them viewgraphs, then education is mostly manipulating symbols. People don’t learn very well that way. What you should do in person is to engage their mind more actively than taking notes. Especially with professional learners, they would much rather learn a chunk of information and then try to apply it to a meaningful example in their actual work practice.”

Based on research and his own experience, Crawley changed his teaching style. Instead of extensive lectures, now in the summer course he talks for, say, 20 minutes, then the students take the concept and apply it to a specific situation. They select an engineering problem to work on so the class becomes a project-based learning exercise. 

Crawley’s teaching insights come from co-founding the System Design and Management program, a joint engineering-management master’s degree, and Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate (CDIO), a systematic program that provided a framework to benchmark the most effective practices in engineering education. His newest effort is heading the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program, an effort to help engineering students develop management skills.

Crawley has won numerous awards for teaching and for his research on aerospace systems including active structural control. He is the author of many journal publications and co-author of two books. He was awarded the AIAA Structures, Structural Dynamics, and Materials Award and the ASME Adaptive Structures Medal. He is a fellow of the AIAA and the Royal Aeronautical Society (UK), and a member of three national academies of engineering. He has founded several companies and serves on the boards of Orbital Sciences Corporation and numerous entrepreneurial enterprises.

In the public sphere, he evaluated options for future space explorations for the White House and NASA on the Augustine Commission. For industry, he has investigated a central question: How to do you design an offshore oil exploration project without knowing how much oil there is and where it is? Crawley has also taught in the BP Projects and Engineering Academy, a joint program of MIT Professional Education and Sloan Executive Education, designed for company engineering executives and managers.

When Crawley isn’t wrestling with large-scale problems, you might find him soaring in a glider. An avid pilot, he often spends hours aloft, gliding over Vermont up to Canada and back again. “I’ve gone five-six hours at a time—it’s very quiet and very cognitive. You are constantly assessing what the conditions are and where you can go next.”

Research Interests:

Crawley’s early research centered on structural dynamics, aeroelasticity, and the development of actively controlled and intelligent structures. His recent work has focused on the domain of the architecture and design of complex systems.

MIT Service:

Teaching since 1980
Founding co-director, System Design and Management Program, 1996
Founding co-director, Conceive, Design, Implement, Operate (CDIO), 2000
Executive Director of the Cambridge–MIT Institute, 2003-06
Director, Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program, 2007-present


ScD MIT, Aerospace Structures, 1981
SM MIT, Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1978
SB MIT, Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1976

Public Service

Chair, NASA Technology and Commercialization Advisory Committee

NASA Public Service Medal

Presidential Advisory Committee on the Space Station Redesign, 1993

Personal Interests: 

Active pilot specializing in gliders

Northeast Regional Soaring champion in 1990, 1995, and 2005

Distinguished Eagle Scout Award of the Boy Scouts of America, 2004


NASA profile

Main MIT Profiles:

Engineering Systems
Aeronautics and Astronautics

Learn more about Professor Crawley:

Edward F. Crawley