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Design Studio: Learning Communities on Academic and Engineering Skills

Contact person

Dr Gerald Jonker (g.h.jonker@rug.nl) and Harm Kloosterman (h.kloosterman@rug.nl).

Summary

Imparting excellent research, design and academic skills to engineers requires intensive training, with activating teaching methods and hands-on practical design experience in a realistic and challenging environment. Conventional teaching methods currently in use in IEM tend to be less effective in this respect, because students are insufficiently involved and therefore do not feel responsible for their own learning process. Especially with engineering studies, students need to learn by carrying out design assignments. Design skills cannot be learned from textbooks but only gained in practice. Only under conditions that emulate ‘real- life’ tasks can the need for creativity, dealing with complexity, teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills, all encountered in reality, be trained properly.

Best Practices

After the first year of experience with the first UG pilot 'Learning Communities' (LC), we see its great potential for our curriculum. IEM staff and students increasingly recognize the LC as an integrating concept in our multidisciplinary degree programme, a concept which can further strengthen the connections between course units and learning tracks.

Regular LC meetings (2 hours per week) proved useful to IEM in several ways. In a familiar group with a familiar coach, students can work on topics and projects related to course unit content, and can further explore and integrate (course unit) content in the multidisciplinary profile of an IEM engineer. Essential to the LC setup is that students practice relevant academic and engineering skills.

The nature of the IEM degree programme calls for specific types of teaching. In the first LC pilot, workshops were developed to meet these particular demands. These included sessions to:

  • analyse business problems concerning sociotechnical, economic and ethical aspects
  • formulate adequate research questions and a comprehensive design objective
  • draft research and design strategies, leading to a conceptual design involving all relevant disciplines, from technology to business sciences
  • validate the conceptual design using various modelling and simulation techniques
  • implement the validated design in a business or societal context

Because the LC sessions are organized parallel to the teaching format of course units, the legitimacy of the LC is not always clear. As a result, poor attendance is sometimes an issue. Although the LC approach started from the perspective of coaching only (without marking or assessment), we have some LC projects that may slightly improve the final mark for the course unit related to the LC. Furthermore, larger LC projects have proved to be more motivating for students than dealing with topics in the LC on a weekly basis. Finally, all LC topics should be structurally aligned and carefully scheduled, so that they run parallel to the course units.

As a logical follow-up to the first-year LC pilot, an extension to the second year of IEM was realized. This would ensure that the LC system would be embedded in the post-propaedeutic phase of the curriculum, and would also make our experience useful to other degree programmes. We are already in a position to recommend a framework and advise other degree programmes on issues such as workshops and projects, based on those we previously developed, and the use of specially designed LC rooms and the adjacent study landscapes.

Last modified:16 March 2017 1.26 p.m.