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Innovating engineering education: lessons learnt from research on educational innovations

Blog by 4TU.CEE chairman Perry den Brok (WUR)

At each of the 4 Technical Universities in the Netherlands, education is rapidly changing as a result of growing and more diverse student numbers, increasing opportunities for using ICT in educational processes, preparing a wider range of students for a wider range of engineering profiles, and changing curricula, offering more flexibility and personal choice. At each of the four institutes, grants or other support is offered to teachers who want to innovate their courses or programmes.

An interesting question is whether these grants and other support initiatives result in innovation of education, and if so, with respect to what topics, under what conditions and with what results. In the past, 4TU.CEE already engaged in a study interviewing innovators about various aspects of their innovation projects. It gave an overview of the type of topics and types of projects innovators were engaged in. This first initiative resulted in an interesting overview of reasons for innovating, topics of innovation, and potential success or fail factors. It also led to the creation of the 4TU.CEE innovation map, a database of educational innovations of the 4 TU’s.


During the past year, Wageningen University and Research (WUR), via the 4TU.CEE started a study to more scientifically underpin its innovation process for innovating courses. As a result, a framework was constructed based on the literature, consisting of relevant criteria that institutes and innovators might want to consider before starting an innovation (see Table 1).

Table 1 – The 13 Criteria (C) constituting the Evaluation Framework

A team of researchers consisting of Valentina Tassone (project leader), Perry den Brok, Harm Biemans and Piety Runhaar from the Education and Learning Sciences group analysed well over 85 Wageningen course innovation proposals of the past three years using the above framework. The complete report of this analysis can be found here.

Currently, based on the findings, the team is analysing a hand full of cases more in detail, not only looking at the innovation proposals, but also looking at the actual implementation and evaluation of the innovations.



The study has resulted in a series of recommendations, that are also of interest to the wider audience of teachers and educational innovators, both within and outside the 4TU.CEE institutes. These recommendations are:

*Strive for inclusive and evenly spread educational innovations at an institute

This can be realised, for example, by incentivizing more complex collaborative efforts across faculties, science groups and/or chair groups; by offering educational support for improving proposals that would otherwise not be granted, and that are related to groups less active in getting educational innovation grants; by incentivizing academics in tenure tracks to engage in educational innovation endeavours (by receiving credits for I t when their proposal is granted); by consulting students and integrating students’ voice and needs when shaping the educational innovation agenda and related calls.

*Create a balance between pre-set content requirements and an open content format, when structuring future calls for innovation

Inevitably, educators will tend to direct the content of their innovation plans and write their proposals in a way that fulfils pre-set requirements, in order to get the grant. Fulfilling the formal educational goals as pre-set requirement can boost achievement of those goals. On the other hand, it can potentially hamper the creation of other new possible educational goals that innovators might truly want to pursue. Make sure that calls provide enough openness for shaping the content of the proposal, and that educators are offered enough freedom to express their creative ideas and their students’ specific ambitions.

*Let educational innovation be theory-based and evidence-informed

Let a more pragmatic problem-orientation be coupled with an educational science-orientation through which scientific concepts and evidence can inform the development of the specific innovation. This can take place, for example, by requesting a sound theoretical and/or empirical underpinning of education innovation proposals; by using empirical findings, as the ones emerging from this study, for inspiring the development of educational policy and innovation calls; etc.

*Consider distinguishing and alternating between an “implementation of good practices” fund and an “experimentation” fund

An “implementation of good practices” fund can focus on supporting the implementation of already known successful tools and approaches, and thus on enabling the upscaling of good practices. On the other hand, an “experimentation” fund can focus on supporting the creation of new tools and new forms of education and thus on enabling experimentation of not yet known practices, to be undertaken in a transparent way allowing also for possible failures from which to learn. Making this distinction, and possibly alternating, between those two innovation funds can help acknowledging the relevance of, or even boosting, both forms of innovation.

 *Be conscious that the most innovative proposals foster affective, metacognitive and life-long learning and education for society

Innovative forms of education foster learning across multiple learning domains, and beyond cognitive learning, make education and students more connected to society and to real societal challenges.

 *Stimulate education for impact, by making sure evaluation and dissemination plans are an integral part of each granted proposal and monitor that these plans are actually executed

Without evaluation, there is no formal reflection on the impact of the innovation. Without dissemination, there are not many possibilities for others to learn from the innovation. This can be stimulated, for example, by providing a part of the grant only after the evaluation and dissemination have taken place; by offering support for defining and applying suited evaluation and dissemination strategies, etc.



Blog by 4TU.CEE Leader Emiel van Puffelen (WUR)

The strategic visions of the 4TU show the need for changes in our education as future engineers will operate in a different and rapidly changing world. The 4TU.CEE learning spaces tour offers excellent opportunities to see experiments with, and implementations of, the new type of education that is needed. The second tour was on 12 March at the campus of Wageningen University and Research and it certainly offered inspiration for new learning approaches and 4TU cooperation.

Clever Robots for Crops

We started at Phenomea Axis and in 15 minutes Jochen Hemming showed us a Harvesting robot for sweet–peppers.
The combination of 3D and other cameras in the robotic hand guides the robot to harvest ripe fruits fully autonomously.  This result of the European FP7 project Clever Robots for Crops is a nice example of new techniques for society.



Learning with real-world projects: Education Project Services and Academic Consultancy Training
The first educational sessions concentrated on using the living lab approach to achieve the new learning outcomes that are needed. Saskia Leenders–Pellis showed how Education Project Services organises more than 200 real-world projects for roughly 1,500 students a year. The majority of those projects are for Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) as was shown by Valentina Tassone. Students learn to:

  • Design and execute a transdisciplinary oriented academic consultancy project
  • Communicate viewpoints and findings
  • Reflect and give feedback
  • Demonstrate attitude and skills for working within real-life complex collaborative contexts

One of the external commissionaires: Birgitte Looijen of Idealis accommodation provider, showed that she was pleased with example project ‘Living lab Droevendaal’. That matched perfectly with the enthusiastic presentation of the same project by two students: Eva Meijer and Gunnar van Weezel. Their learning experiences showed the strong potential of this approach even at a scale of more than 1000 students a year.

After that, a nice hike brought us to the wonderful Forum education building for lunch, discussion and a short tour.

Plus Ultra 2

Learning space: the world with entrepreneurial commitment
Another hike brought us to the Triton building, a world sparkling with young entrepreneurs. Here Gerlinde van Vilsteren presented plans for a new building with learning spaces: Plus Ultra 2. After that Tim Daalderop and Nina Kosten showed us in their presentation how students are assisted in becoming entrepreneurs and how entrepreneurship is integrated in the education programmes and courses. It is an extensive and integrated package and version 2 is now being drafted! The ideas and options for 4TU.CEE cooperation generated a lot of interaction amongst the tour participants, and that was continued during the next hike to, and the coffee/tea break in the Impulse building.


Challenge to learn!
Marta Eggers was waiting there in the speakers corner.  She introduced the Urban Greenhouse and ReThink Protein Challenges and explained how they work: by organising competitions and supporting the teams. She challenged the group to formulate their preferences and approaches and soon the speakers corner was filled with debating 4TU staff. New ideas for projects were born and practical advice was exchanged.

Real world student projects custom made for societal organisations
Lastly, we went back to Forum for a session about the Science Shop with Leneke Pfeiffer. She showed us real-world student projects that were custom made for societal organisations. An excellent way to combine working on Sustainable Development Goals with education! Leneke also helped us in formulating our take-home messages.

Learning Spaces tour: opportunity to see and draft what is needed for the future!
Those messages and the wrap up of the day showed rich experiences with new education approaches for the learning goals of engineers of the future. They also indicated that the tour helps in generating new ideas for 4TU.CEE cooperation. Those ideas are not included in this blog, which only covers the headlines of this day. More information is available by clicking on the links in the text. But nothing replaces the real thing of experiencing the tour! The next stop on the learning spaces tour will be TU Eindhoven. 4TU staff is most welcome to join. Watch the 4TU.CEE events page in the next weeks and sign up!


Blog by 4TU.CEE programme coordinators Renate Klaassen (TUD) and Chris Rouwenhorst (UT)

On the 24th of January 2019, 4TU.Centre for Engineering had the privilege to visit the Amsterdam Metropolitan Institute.  30 participants from the 4 Technical Universities in the Netherlands participated in this first stop of the 4TU learning spaces tour. The programme consisted of two site visits to two living labs HOOD and DIGITAL where students of the master Metropolitan Analysis, Design and Engineering (MSc MADE) in action contexts and stakeholders were interviewed on their experiences and the pedagogical framework in which they were working. Back at the institute we enjoyed a lovely lunch while networking with other 4TU partners interested in this topic.

About AMS
After lunch we had institutional presentations on the what and how of the Amsterdam institute by Kenneth Heijns (institutional director) and the living lab learning cycle, by Leendert Verhoef (programme lead living labs).

The AMS institute was officially launched in June 2014 and is therefore a very young institute. The institute was founded as a collaboration with the municipality of Amsterdam, Wageningen University, Delft University of Technology and M.I.T.

The municipality is the main client requesting urban and sustainable solutions for the metropolitan area.  The solutions range from sustainable festival lighting, to participatory area development, to sustainable ro-boats for garbage logistics, green food transport, to flexible open space for social events.


Innovation eco-system
The strong integration of science, education, government, business partners and social organisations to create transdisciplinary and sustainable solutions for complex challenge in the metropole of Amsterdam spurs the rapid development of an innovation eco-system.  The innovation eco-system develops as the municipality of Amsterdam, in close cooperation with the AMS institute, strives to bridge gaps between private industrial labs, scientific research labs, urban test sites with living labs to serve public interests.


Lessons learned
The afternoon closed off with midterm presentations of students in living labs, who work on defining and understanding the metropolitan challenges that Amsterdam is facing today. Interesting were the lessons learned by students operating in a living lab.

Positive experiences were that the knowledge development is open for replication. There is an increase in urban sustainability solutions with surprising applications of innovative solutions not thought of before. The population became more aware of circularity as a sustainable solution. Co-creation and diverse stakeholders involvement stimulated the development of innovation, new ways of working, team & building and networking opportunities.

Despite these very positive learning outcomes a few challenges were also named. Such as having to explain what a living lab is time and again. Following the living lab methodology and not doing a sort of project or design project. Finding and documenting the right data was not easy either. Linked to that is testing and evaluating the living labs results, which is not happening right now, how are we going to get it off the ground?  Co- decisions making, keeping all parties involved and having the decision power in the appropriate hands are further challenges. The bureaucracy of larger (non)-governmental institutions are further challenges to meet deadlines and deal with many iterations with stakeholders to realise the living lab objectives.

Other questions are amongst many:

  • How to deal with the techno vs socio – cultural fix
  • How can local citizens be involved in technological developments in the early stage?
  • Is co-creation or the living lab approach useful for the development of technological niche?

For the coordinators of the 4TU it was a very inspirational day.  It was impressive to see how many connections and relations to other institutes and the municipality have been created in the first 4 years of existence of the AMS institute.

HOODlab examples
The set-up of the AMS institute and living lab way of working addresses many challenges for future academic education.  Three examples from the Amsterdam HOODlab:

First the living labs are bridging the gap from a university study to society and a working life after the study. It really helps to bring theory into an applicable practice. Such as the bulk waste problem in the Amsterdam neighborhood, that is tackled at the HOODlab. Students are working on a real authentic problem.

Secondly the students need to use a lot of skills in order to complete the project in the living lab. In a living lab location you are required to communicate with diverse groups of people, people living in the neighborhood, the municipality etc. Students also need project management skills, work autonomously and need to be flexible in order to finish the project.

Thirdly students are challenged to bridge disciplines in order to find a solution. Solutions that are high tech, but incorporate societal factors at the same time.


Academic setting

In many academic interdisciplinary projects across our universities, the assessment of the integrative interdisciplinary solutions are an issue.  The concern is both about the relevance of the integration and the level of “mono”- disciplinary knowledge which is embedded and demonstrated in the final results. The “living lab” in the MADE master is even more complex than most of these interdisciplinary university courses, involving many more stakeholders, disciplines and the necessity to come to an applicable result in practice. Although the primary focus in the assessment is on the process application of the living labs, the results do matter for the companies involved in the living lab course.  The assessment in itself is equally more complex. The traditional assessment tools available may not be apt for obtaining insight in the levels of learning that have actually taken place. It would be of interest to find out how in the MADE master this assessment is tackled and what we can learn from this in 4TU contexts in terms of maintaining the academic level in complex situations and the way in which we can fairly and transparently assess the process and results.

Overall we had a very positive first visit. The presentations of this day and Living Labs report can be found here:

AMS presentation
MADE presentation
Living Labs presentation
Living Lab Way of Work report

We thank the AMS institute for their hospitality and are really looking forward to our next stop in the Learning spaces Tour at Wageningen University on 12 March 2019. 4TU staff is invited to join. Read more and register here.


Blog by 4TU.CEE programma coordinators Renate Klaassen (TUD), Chantal Brans (TU/e) and Chris Rouwenhorst (UT)

On the 26th and 27th of November, 32 teachers and 5 support staff members gathered in the Woudschoten Conference hotel to discuss and work on interdisciplinary education. The two day workshop was guided by Prof.  Siddhartan Govindasamy and Prof. John Geddes from Olin College and a nice variety of some eight teaching staff per technical university were present.

Olin College is a state of the art engineering university in America with a focus on education (not on research), where almost all (project) education is inter- or multidisciplinary. In Ruth Graham’s work, Olin College is considered as one of the leading (current- and future) institutes in engineering education.

Teaching principles
The first day of the workshop, John and Siddhartan, shared their approach to designing and conducting interdisciplinary project work. They mentioned a number of important teaching principles used at Olin and pervasive throughout the culture of Olin College:

  • Learning by experiment
  • Trust and collaboration in team work
  • Letting go of your disciplinary identity
  • Student centeredness and what it means
  • Continuous questioning of assumptions, prototyping, testing your ideas and reflections to improve


The morning of the 1st day we started with a hands on experiment, questioning boat stability on the basis of shape, weight and water, challenging our fundamental knowledge about the physical world.  After a debrief we now all remember that broad shaped pieces of wood are more stable in water and less likely to topple over. (So our Dutch 17th century  boatbuilders were ahead of their time, building broad ships like botters and schouwen, etc.). At the heart of the experiment is the quantative analysis process, a process for engineering design, broadly applicable. The process is depicted below:



Trust amongst team-members is very important when working together, and even more so at Olin College since most courses are taught in a team-setting.

“Many studies have shown the importance of trust to creating and maintaining high performance teams.  A key component of a trusting environment is psychological safety: feeling like you can share your ideas, even the crazy ones, without fear of judgement

A way to create trust is taking time to get to know each other. At Olin all team members are asked to take 5 minutes to share the most important life events that brought them to this team; the strong points each team-member brings to the table based on their experience; and how they are willing to dedicate their time to realise this project. Although it seems tedious to start this way, it is worth taking this time as it turns out that less conflicts occur at a later stage of the teamwork.

“Good” teaching

At Olin College disciplinary teaching staff is not hired, as there is no organisational structure linked to disciplinary faculties or units. Disciplinary knowledge is not regarded as a key feature of “good” teaching; guiding students, coaching students and helping them to find the experts when they need the information, is part of good teaching. A team of diverse teachers helps to create different perspectives on each topic, covers a breadth of ideas not reached within one single discipline, increases the different pedagogical approaches (breath, options and scope) and facilitates the onboarding of new faculties as apprenticeships within the institution.

Student centeredness at Olin is about making students responsible for their own learning process, thus many exercises are included; to stimulate self-directed learning, to make sure students provide formative feedback to one another before the teacher does, to have students do their own goal setting and reflect on the process to stay on track and come up with an answer to adjust or adapt their course of action.

Case studies

The second day of the workshop was a dedicated “working day” on institutional case studies. Interdisciplinary teams of teachers of different universities worked on a real or imaginary interdisciplinary course. We started with making personas of students, discussed our goalsetting for the design of education and (re)addressed the personal case of one of the 4TU- team members.  Examples of cases that were discussed:

  • A design studio for industrial ecology on sustainability; espousing micro teaching and tutoring of peers on interdisciplinary topics.
  • An interdisciplinary Urban greenhouse challenge.
  • An interdisciplinary project on wearable lights for sleeping problems involving programming, user interviews, presentations and much more.
  • A civil engineering project about machine learning with various types of assessment.
  • An interfaculty or interuniversity design project on resilience in which students should come up with a technical product which is socially acceptable, technically feasible and covers disciplinary integration in depth as well as breadth.


The outcomes were great! Some participants improved their existing course, some thought of a learning line to “build” the project-based and interdisciplinary learning during the course of the bachelor. Taking the time to really work on your own project with team members from the other technical universities was refreshing and meaningful for our own learning process.

Overall the feedback of the participants was that it was great to engage with colleagues on teaching and learning for two days.  Getting out of your normal university setting also helps to reflect on your work and in making modifications.

Olin college invests in teaching and engages in experiments. At the four technical universities we are all used to project based learning. It is nice to notice during the two day workshop that we are doing pretty well! We made some good steps forward in the last few years and could be much more proud of what we are doing and also share experiences.

Siddhartan and John were impressed by the “high level questions” asked by the participants and by the energy and the engagement of the group. We sincerely thank John and Siddhartan for this inspirational two-day workshop and are looking forward to meet again.

All documents and slides are available. If you want more information about this workshop, you can contact either Chantal Brans or Renate Klaassen.


Blog by Birgit Pepin, 4TU.CEE leader TU/e

It is now common knowledge that technologies are transforming, and will continue to transform, society and economy throughout the world – we live in a rapidly changing world. For many employees the reality is that there is the continual need to adapt to technological changes. Such changes are not limited to the world of work, they of course impact on higher education, in particular on engineering education, as the providers of the future work force. Technology is also transforming our students’ lives, including the ways they learn. Hence our curricula and courses must reflect such changes. Moreover, technology is changing our curriculum materials (e.g. when textbooks turn into e-textbooks), students’ access to and interactions with curriculum materials, and with media. These changes in education (and educational materials) must be reflected in change of aims and of instructional approaches.

The four technical universities in the Netherlands (i.e. Delft, Eindhoven, Twente, and Wageningen) have developed strategic frameworks for the coming years (e.g. TU/e Strategy 2030). Regarding the impact of technology on education, the TU/e document describes that “digitization touches on every aspect of our education”. (p.31, TU/e Strategy 2030). In terms of changes that come with technology and digitization, TU/e document states (amongst others) that:

  • students need to be equipped with digital skills;
  • courses need to be offered “in a flexible and modular way to provide learning opportunities tailored to the individual” student;
  • “coherent packages of online courses” for future on-campus students need to be developed;
  • mobile learning needs to be available, so that students “can learn when and where they want”;
  • assessment systems need to be developed to “support the interaction and feedback between students and their coaches”;
  • an infrastructure for obtaining and processing (e.g. from a distance) needs to be created; and
  • open access to all research results needs to be provided.

In my previous blog ( I have argued that the OECD suggests a shift in educational aims, also in engineering education. In this blog I consider that, due to a technology-changed world (both in the world of work, as well as in students’ personal lives) and in line with the “new aims”, we have to change learning environments and instructional approaches in engineering education. These changes afford particular dilemmas for course designers/teachers, and I argue that in order to develop new curricula and courses that align with changing student learning practices, and at the same time take advantage of technological affordances (and constraints), it is necessary to provide support for teachers.

What are (some of) the changes in terms of student learning?

The OECD (2018) predicts that a new kind of student learning (and teacher teaching) is necessary in order to be able to face “unprecedented challenges” -social, economic and environmental (see earlier blog). Whilst a number of “21st century” learning skills and knowledges have been identified as necessary to suitably and effectively prepare our students for these challenges (so that they can eventually join the future workforce), the repercussions of these challenges for the design of student learning (environments) have largely not been taken up. Whereas employers now seek future engineers who are competent and confident collaborators and team-players, creative problem solvers, effective communicators, and critical thinkers, most of our students in higher engineering education still learn in traditional settings and environments, emphasizing hierarchically organized knowledge and curricula and offering little support for becoming “systems thinkers”. Employers now demand engineers who think flexibly and are adaptable, able to function effectively in a less structured, shared and activity-based environment. It can be said that students are no longer well-served by being presented with “static” subject matter knowledge, and exposed to traditional instructionist teaching approaches in formal spaces. They need to be able to learn to “make connections”, learn in new and flexible ways that prepare them to function well in tomorrow’s world (Schuck, Kearney, & Burden, 2017).


Photo Taken In Bangkok, Thailand

Let’s learn from particular examples. (1) Nowadays students do not only learn on campus during particular hours, or at home with the help of Learning Management Systems; they may learn, for example, on the train, or in a cafe; in other words, more flexible time-space configurations are needed for new modes of learning. New portable devices offer new possibilities for student learning in a multiplicity of formal and informal, physical and virtual contexts (ibid). (2) Learning may take place “polysynchronously” (Oztok et al. 2014), across spaces posing challenges for teachers who are not used to think about this flexible use of time. (3) Learning may also occur without a teacher, initiated by learners themselves and in the presence of peers and experts from around the globe (Schuck, et al. 2017). (4) Informal (recreational) learning in digital spaces (e.g. multiplayer games) assumes that learners are self-directed and autonomous. Young people using these spaces choose what they learn and operate at their own pace and in their chosen way. Learning in these spaces is typically situated in learning networks and communities; they require collaboration and problem solving, for example, and the focus is on interaction with peers and creation with new media (Aubusson, Griffin, & Kearney 2012).


It is clear that new technological affordances nurture new learning practices. These provide challenges for teachers, in particular in terms of designing new pathways and environments for student learning. What could some of the design challenges be? This is discussed in the next section.


What are the challenges our teachers face?

In terms of learning contexts, traditional physical learning spaces (e.g. lecture theatres) or formal virtual spaces (e.g. Learning Management Systems) typically assume a delivery model of learning, where the teacher is the expert and is charged with the authority to “cover the content” of the course, in other words to disseminate knowledge to generally passive learners. In “new contexts” learners have to take on a more participative, collaborative role, for example, by making use of online networks and learner-generated content (e.g. because it is needed for a particular project) in social, virtual communities.

Considering the strategy papers of the four technical universities, there are a number of challenges for our teachers in engineering education, amongst them the following:

  1. Collaboration – individualization: on the one hand students are to be provided with collaborative learning spaces, where they can co-act across a range of networks, with peers, teachers/experts – this is said to “emancipate their minds” (Dewey); on the other, students are expected to be able to develop their individualized learning paths, where they can develop agency over their own learning.
  2. Authenticity – “artificiality” of concepts: on the one hand students are to be provided with authentic, relevant, real-world situations/contexts that they can make sense of (in terms of personal meaning making); on the other there are “artificial” (scientific) concepts that allow transfer from one situation to another (without detriment to the conceptual underpinning) and these concepts make sense to students in different situations.
  3. (at curriculum level) “Didactic coherence” as seen through the eyes of the expert/teacher – “dynamic coherence” as seen through the eyes of the student (e.g. what the student regards as relevant learning packages for a particular project): on the one hand there is the coherence as seen through the eyes of the teacher/expert, in his endeavor to provide “coherent packages of online courses” for students – this is often linked to didactical considerations for particular contents; on the other there is the “dynamic coherence” as seen by the student/s when s/he learns on challenging projects and puts together his/her own learning line for this.
  4. (at instructional level) Provision (by teachers) of various potential student learning paths – provision of “tools” for students developing their own actual learning path: on the one hand teachers are expected to create “personal learning paths” for students, so that they have a choice to pursue their own goals and interests; on the other, with technology and digitization it is possible for students to choose themselves the ”tools” they need, in order to develop their own learning paths. These will be “personal” and independent of time and space, whether students learn in the train, on campus, at night or on weekends.

These are only four of the challenges, perhaps dilemmas, I see for our teachers, and there are likely to be many more. How can we support teachers in their design and implementation efforts of new instructional approaches? How can we facilitate the design (and enactment) of courses that reflect the new aims and strategies? If we are striving to make these future visions a reality, there are clearly a few challenges ahead of us.


Blog by 4TU.CEE programme coordinators Chantal Brans (TU/e) and Renate Klaassen (TUD)


This year’s theme of the SEFI conference in Copenhagen was built on the three pillars “Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship for Engineering Education Excellence”.

In her key note Ruth Graham addressed the innovative nature of the up and coming or trending Universities (MIT report) around the world. In the panel discussion with representatives of the trending Universities it became clear that creativity, (team) initiative and entrepreneurship and as a result thereof innovative results in student output, at curriculum and programme level are among the key ingredients of excellent universities of the future. Inspiring examples were given:

  • a Dream Team student from TU Delft was present, expressing the student driven and entrepreneurial mind set need to succeed;
  • a student from the entrepreneurial programme of DTU (DK) demonstrated how this type of approach is embedded in the whole programme;
  • from UCL (UK) a programme change maker, responsible for the bachelor programme design, showed that interdisciplinary learning with challenge based assignments including clients from industry, were driving forces to break down barriers between different disciplines;
  • in Singapore (SUTD) the 4D principle of student learning was emphasized, where students go from 1D design activities, applying concepts in practice to 4D student led design activities;
  • PUC in Chili has a mandatory hands on cross disciplinary course where student solve problems facing Chili by seeking technology based solutions. Regional entrepreneurs are involved as coaches;
  • CSU Australia discussed a fully flexible programme with a Netflix model of learning path and job-placement to learn and demonstrate the mastery of engineering skills. Requiring high levels of independence, entrepreneurship and creativity.

Industry perspective

Another perspective was given by the industry key note speakers and panel discussion. They pointed out that the shortage in the labor market for technology driven jobs will have amounted to 700.000 worldwide in 2020 – 2025.  Reasons for companies like Microsoft, Netcompany and Dassault systems to present the universities what their needs are concerning employees.

The view of the industry, provided by Charlotte Mark (Microsoft) and André Rogaczewski (Netcompany) on what they need from Technological Universities was clear. Both complex problem solving, creativity and asking good questions were among their favorite skills for their future employees. Mark stressed the importance of a company culture that fosters talented colleagues whereas Rogaczewski zoomed in on diversity and the need to attract female talents much more. Mark however also indicated that not all students have to become a “broad” engineer.

The role of universities

Companies themselves seek close collaborations with Universities and offer all kinds of educational activities to university students too. They feel the role of the Universities in teaching and learning is to take care of the fundamental skills. The companies would take care of the three pillars of engineering education “creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial mindset”. A rather interesting statement. Do universities also consider teaching fundamental skills to students as their main task? Or could this be outsourced to online learning companies………

To take it a step further they felt that the employee of the future should have computational skills, far beyond simple coding languages, think of exponential technologies and learning through AI, have domain knowledge and tech knowledge in that domain, have multiple degrees, be a life-long learner and teach others how to learn all these skills. This would imply that we will be in business for a long time!

A contribution from both KU Leuven and TU Delft PREFER zoomed in on different professional engineering roles to help students understand what type of future jobs are there for them. The Roles show overlap with the TU Delft Think Tank roles drawn up in 2015 and are tested in companies and at the University. The improvement of study skills was also discussed. It became obvious that many engineering programmes are searching for appropriate methods that are effective and attractive for our students.

Research in Higher Engineering Education

The search for solutions and good ideas is probably the most typical for this SEFI conference. It also  pointed directly to the need for more and better research within Higher Engineering Education (HEE). In order to create knowledge, a deeper understanding, but also common language in the field of engineering education, we should free up more time to read an articles within the field and discuss it with our colleagues.

The Experimentarium

What we take away from the week in Copenhagen is that we have a strong European community in HEE. We have many common challenges, but also the ability to experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t. To close of this inspirational week we also visited the Experimentarium, a science museum with a lot of hands-on experiments that we could discover ourselves. Here again as shown in the Virtual Speech experiment at TU Delft, not only successes, but also the brilliant failures are worth sharing.

Innovation spaces

The SEFI conference underlines that the 4TU’s are working on the right topics, of which innovation spaces is one. The DTU’s Skylab for example was the highlight of the campus tour. In this lab student teams can design and build artefacts for competitions and other purposes. Facilities such as these are being created more and more, also at our 4 TU’s. In February 2019 4TU.CEE will organise an innovation space tour that will cover all four TU’s facilities. More information will follow….

We want to thank DTU, for a well-organised conference. It certainly serves as a good example for the 4TU.CEE SEFI2020 conference to be held in Twente.

Read the 4TU.CEE SEFI 2018 contributions:


Blog by Emiel van Puffelen, 4TU.CEE leader WUR

In general Japanese brands are known for their top quality, low breakdown rates, and innovative design. This group of islands has the most leading camera and electronic brands, such as: Canon, Casio, Konica Minolta, Nikon, Nintendo, Olympus, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony, Toshiba and Yamaha. And the car engineers add some very innovative and successful brands to that list. While other major car brands are still struggling to leave 100% fossil drive, Japan is already developing the fifth generation of hybrid cars. And in many other engineering markets, Japan is leading as well.

Shinkansen train

And there is another Japanese miracle: their public transport system. The cities have extremely dense and large subway and local train systems. All the lines offer very frequent connections, are always on time and have good facilities. The networks of different cities are connected by the famous Shinkansen high-speed trains.

That brings us to the question; what is the secret of Japanese engineering? How come there are so many top quality brands, with low breakdown rate and innovative design? Why is their public transportation so much better?


Travel to Japan and the answer will become obvious. It is a personal characteristic: dedication, combined with a group characteristic: kaizen (continuous improvement):

  • The Japanese are very dedicated; they have a high drive to do everything 100% right, with respect for other people and the environment. An example: nobody will litter; the streets are very clean and very few trash bins are needed as everybody will take trash home.
  • For organisations the combined goal is kaizen; all members of a group are intrinsically motivated to coordinate their actions to achieve that. The subsequent Toyota Prius models are a clear example of high-speed continuous improvement.

Can we teach that kind of dedication with respect combined with intrinsic motivation for kaizen at our universities?

That question brings us to the CDIO 2018 conference in Kanazawa Japan.

CDIO Conference Japan

At the conference much emphases was put on soft skills and interdisciplinarity. I think that dedication and kaizen have to be embedded in society. It is a long way to achieve that and universities can be the starting point; so:

Let’s put dedication and kaizen on top of our list for future proof engineering softs skills!

One of the first steps would be to closely look at the CDIO methodology and see how it can include kaizen better. CDIO stands for: Conceiving – Designing – Implementing – Operating and should in my opinion be followed by ‘Evaluation’. Not merely to conclude, but to also serve as a starting point of the next CDIO improvement cycle. Furthermore I am a strong supporter of putting more focus on soft skills and interdisciplinarity in the CDIO methodology. There is certainly plenty to discuss at the CDIO International Working Meeting this autumn in Delft.


Blog by Jan van der Veen, 4TU.CEE leader University of Twente

It was at the kick-off meeting of our 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education that keynote speaker Ruth Graham presented research outcomes showing that both senior university management and academics agree that teaching excellence should have more weight in academic careers. If everybody agrees, why is it not happening already? Universities are institutes for Higher Education, so how come that educational merits do not pay off as much as research grants and publications. Ruth Graham showed that the main showstopper was the lack of good and agreed measurement tools. Student surveys are valuable but should not be the only indicator. This is why the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) asked her to develop such tools in collaboration with international partners. Together with 15 universities such as Harvard, MIT, NUS (Singapore), Chalmers (Gothenburg) and UNSW (Sidney), a teaching framework was developed and tested. University of Twente participated on behalf of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education, piloting tools in two faculties.


Teaching framework

This spring, the Royal Academy of Engineering (UK) launched the teaching framework that enables universities to implement career emphasis on education. The four level picture indicates how academic teachers can develop themselves. In the Netherlands the first level of effective teacher refers to the Dutch UTQ (BKO) level. Most Dutch universities have some sort of senior university teaching qualification (SUTQ) which can be linked to level 2. At the third level we see different tracks for those taking a leadership role and those opting for scholarship of teaching and learning. The fourth level is reserved for those having widespread impact beyond their own university.


Career framework for university teaching – Royal Academy of Engineering UK / Ruth Graham,


In the international group of universities local contexts lead to different implementations. Some use the framework primarily for staff that fully operate on educational tasks, while others prefer to see combinations of research and education per academic, percentages of each to be discussed, and possibly also changing over time in someone’s career. Criteria for a professorship with an emphasis on education have been implemented at some of the Dutch universities.



At the educational event of VSNU on May 24th, Ruth Graham highlighted the main parts of the teaching framework and how it can be used. A well-received keynote in line with remarks by the minister of education Ingrid van Engelshoven and the VSNU chair Pieter Duisenberg. Similar approaches from all Dutch universities can make implementation easier and would then allow academics to transfer ‘educational achievements’ when moving from one university to another. As many domains are international, the link to the international group of universities is beneficial as well. Discussions are now ongoing how to monitor implementations and impact. The 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education is opting to participate. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, so let’s see how it works out. Most Dutch universities have organised and concentrated their research quite well, further gains for society (and yes, also for ranking purposes) require a further upgrading of the educational side of academia including a well-defined link to career steps and professional development options that support staff in optimising their educational activities.



Blog by Birgit Pepin, 4TU.CEE leader TU/e

“To navigate through such uncertainty, students will need to develop curiosity, imagination, resilience and self-regulation; they will need to respect and appreciate the ideas, perspectives and values of others; and they will need to cope with failure and rejection, and to move forward in the face of adversity. Their motivation will be more than getting a good job and a high income; they will also need to care about the well-being of their friends and families, their communities and the planet.”

Position paper OECD and engineering education
If you think that this quote comes from our recent university documents, you are mistaken. It is from the OECD document “The future of education and skills- education 2030- the future we want” – a position paper by the OECD (based on first investigations of their project). If you think that this paper relates to higher education, you are mistaken – it is meant for education from pre-school to higher education!

In this blog I summarize the document (which I recently read) by highlighting some of the thoughts that I found most valuable for us in engineering education, and with the view to the “engineer of the future” and engineering education 2030.

In the foreword the director of the ‘The Future of Education and Skills 2030’ project, Andreas Schleicher, outlines the underpinning questions of the project:

  • What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will today’s students need to thrive and shape their world?
  • How can instructional systems develop these knowledge, skills, attitudes and values effectively?

How to deal with future challenges
The background to the project is that, so he claims, we are facing “unprecedented challenges” -social, economic and environmental – and problems and uncertainties that we cannot anticipate, “it will be a shared responsibility to seize opportunities and find solutions”. He predicts that in order to “navigate through such uncertainty, students will need to develop curiosity, imagination, resilience and self- regulation; they will need to respect and appreciate the ideas, perspectives and values of others; and they will need to cope with failure and rejection, and to move forward in the face of adversity. “ Moreover, he is certain that their motivation (for education) will be “more than getting a good job and a high income”, but they will also need to think about, and care for “the well-being of their friends and families, their communities and the planet”. In order to reach these aims, he states, “education can equip learners with agency and a sense of purpose, and the competencies they need, to shape their own lives and contribute to the lives of others”. In short, and translating these aims to engineering education, we (as engineering educators) have to help our students to become “active, responsible, and engaged citizens” as engineers.

Learner agency and co-agency
Attending in more detail to his vision, key features are (1) “learner agency”, and (2) “co-agency”. With reference to (2) he explains “co-agency” as “the interactive, mutually supportive relationships that help learners to progress towards their valued goals”. In such a context there are no instructors on the one hand, and learners on the other, but everyone should be considered a learner: students, teachers, school managers, parents and communities. Concerning (1) learner agency, in his opinion there are two factors in particular that help learners enable agency: (a) a “personalised learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions, make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities, and design their own learning projects and processes in collaboration with others”; and (b) a solid knowledge foundation where “literacy and numeracy remain crucial”. In terms of literacies he emphasizes that “digital literacy” and “data literacy” are becoming increasingly essential.

Innovation through co-operation and collaboration
However, what caught my attention most were his elaborations on knowledge and competence development. He predicts that “disciplinary knowledge will continue to be important, as the raw material from which new knowledge is developed, together with the capacity to think across the boundaries of disciplines and “connect the dots”. Interestingly, he divides knowledge into (a) epistemic knowledge (knowledge about the disciplines), e.g. knowing how to think like a mathematician, historian or scientist, will enable students to extend their disciplinary knowledge; and (b) procedural knowledge, which he assumes to be through “practical problem-solving, such as through design thinking and systems thinking”. Of course, students will be expected to apply their knowledge in “unknown and evolving circumstances”, for which “they will need a broad range of skills, including cognitive and meta-cognitive skills (e.g. critical thinking, creative thinking, learning to learn and self-regulation); social and emotional skills (e.g. empathy, self-efficacy and collaboration); and practical and physical skills (e.g. using new information and communication technology devices)”.  In terms of innovation, he presumes that “innovation springs not from individuals thinking and working alone, but through co-operation and collaboration with others to draw on existing knowledge to create new knowledge. The constructs that underpin the competency include adaptability, creativity, curiosity and open-mindedness”.

System thinking
He sums up that in order to be prepared for the future, “individuals have to learn to think and act in a more integrated way, taking into account the interconnections and inter-relations between contradictory or incompatible ideas, logics and positions, from both short- and long-term perspectives. In other words, they have to learn to be systems thinkers”.

This speaks to all of us in STEM education, definitely to me (as a mathematics educator), as I have always thought of ‘developing an understanding of a concept’ means ‘making connections’ (or as he put it earlier “connecting the dots”). And it is through the richness (or paucity) of connections that we can evaluate whether we have deeply understood, or developed a surface understanding of the concept. Which kinds of connections to make, which ones are likely to be most helpful, and how to support the making/scaffolding of connections, is surely the task of the teacher. ‘Making connections’ (as a teacher) also includes connecting to our students, their thinking, their experiences, and their interests, to name but a few.

Making dreams come true
Coming back to the initial quote, this outline is for the whole of education, and it emphasizes a broad personal development, which in addition to connected knowledge are also ideals in our engineering education. At the same time we know how difficult this is to make dreams come true, also in education. If we want to make a contribution in higher education, do we subscribe to these ideals, and how can we (start to) operationalize them?


  By Jan van der Veen, University of Twente

Visiting Moscow in the wintertime (17-20 January 2018) is special: few tourists, a snow covered city and a very warm welcome. The CDIO community of Technical Universities applying project based learning met at Skoltech University. This newly established English language university has started a couple of years ago with masters and PhD programmes. The main building is still under construction but was open for us. Some architects of the Beijing Olympic Stadium were hired and together with the founding team a special building was created. A rare occasion when you can align your educational design with the building and learning spaces from scratch! The building is huge, walking around the circular building will make a nice exercise of 880 meters.


Developing economies

Within this circle there are smaller units for separate research and education settings while offering many opportunities to meet and collaborate. Students are engaged in these settings from the start. The founding team was composed of both Russian engineers as well as engineering education specialists from around the world. One of the Skoltech inspirators was Edward Crawley (MIT) who delivered a keynote on how research and education can feed into innovation processes. Next to the university the first spin-offs are set up and more to come. This reminds us that technical universities are supposed to play a role in the development of our economies. The keynote and discussion covered how the educational programme could play a role in this regard via entrepreneurial skills, creativity, risk taking and  making interdisciplinary connections.

TU Eindhoven presentation


New CDIO members presented themselves. TU Eindhoven was introduced by Lex Lemmens. His presentation showed that Eindhoven is eager to have innovation as a focal point, well connected with small and larger companies in the Eindhoven region.






University career frameworks

Tretyakov Gallery

Together with Birgit Pepin(TU Eindhoven) and Clement Fortin(Skoltech) 4TU.CEE ran a workshop on university career frameworks that balance teaching and research achievements. This relates to international efforts coordinated by the Royal Academy of Engineering project supervised by Ruth Graham. In many universities both management and staff wish this balance to be enforced but few see how this can be achieved. After three introductory case studies participants formulated their recommendations group-wise. Clearly not only a framework and measuring tools are required but also a culture shift. Parallel to this career approach a professional development programme beyond basic teacher training workshops is needed, see for example the pilot at the University of Twente. Aiming at scholarship of teaching and learning fits naturally in an academic context, connecting nicely to what 4TU.CEE stands for. Besides an inspiring engineering education meeting there was some time left to visit a few Moscow highlights. The Tretyakov Gallery is definitely on my shortlist with many paintings from Repin and other great Russian painters.