Blog Archives


By Emiel van Puffelen, WUR

A sustainable world
SEFI 2017 was an inspiring conference and the sessions showed a consensus that our engineers are needed to make the world sustainable. They will have to make smart designs to reach the 17 United Nation goals as shown below. To reach these goals engineering disciplines will have to contribute to solutions. Life science engineers have a role to play in almost all goals.

UN sustainable development goals

Sustainability in education
Universities are busy integrating sustainability in the curriculum and courses and are fitting in sustainability courses. They are often intrinsically motivated to do so. A comparison between the Danish and French situation shows that adding push factors for sustainability in education within the accreditation process helps as well. The Technische Universität Berlin even showed that you can integrate sustainability in the curricula while doing the regular work needed for the BA/MA  structure.

A literature review (2009-2017) by Hull and Carlo Cattaneo of University-LIUC, shows a change in the interests in Teaching Sustainability. At first there was a need to present a systemic and holistic vision of sustainability. The next phase focussed on the development of instruments to construct a curriculum. And the final shift was geared towards the development of measures to quantify the Sustainability content or learning outcomes.

Mount PICO pilot geothermal power plant

If you like to know more about sustainable electricity production the Mount PICO pilot geothermal power plant is worth a mouse click. It has been operational for 3 months and is already supplying 12% of the electric power of Terceira island. The output will considerably increase in the near future. The SEFI visit to the plant cured me from a narrow minded focus on wind and solar energy.

Design of active Learning
Lewas Lab offers a combination of active education and research by measuring water quality and quantity data on the Virginia Tech campus. This option and many others can be part of course design. Wageningen University is successful in designing blended courses for active learning; and my SEFI article describes the steps to be made.

The changing work field
Another consensus at the conference: our students will have jobs that do not exists yet or differ significantly from those in the present world. The skills and competency for future engineers (our students!) are listed in a literature review from Aalborg University and Itasca Community College (USA). On the list are skills such as multi- and interdisciplinary teamwork and systems thinking. This also asks for learning environments in which students are able and challenged to play an active role, as is the case in problem based, project organised learning.

The proceedings offer this and many other inspiring articles. The 4TU.CEE contributions can be found on the 4TU.CEE website.


By Jan van der Veen and Lisa Gommer, University of Twente

Here are some highlights of this year’s world conference of CDIO, the organisation that connects Technical Universities that apply project based learning in their curriculum. The conference brings together a nice combination of teaching staff, educational experts and programme managers.


Edward Crawley

Maker projects

Edward Crawley (MIT) discussed the latest plans of MIT’s engineering school now opting for modules that they call ‘project centric’. In their New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) approach foundational content is provided in segments that feed the student teams in their work on the projects. For these segments they will use both digital formats as well as traditional lecturing. Throughout the curriculum the emphasis will be on ‘maker projects’ in which the engineering students together produce all sorts of ‘machines’ while staff are coaching them on interpersonal and professional skills in the process.


Open source simulations

Kathy Perkins

Kathy Perkins (Boulder, Colorado) used her keynote to show how PhET simulations are best used in secondary schools and undergraduate programmes. As these open source simulations can easily be linked to separate languages, the worldwide use has increased to 100 million times per year, quite amazing. Simplification of complex experiments and visualisation of phenomena that are invisible to the human eye are among the success factors. Simulations can be used in self-study mode, pairwise as in many lab experiments or as an active component embedded in lectures. Tasks are preferably open so as not to end with a recipe. In follow-up discussions with Kathy Perkins we concluded that Twente students in teacher training programmes can contribute to the development and testing of new simulations with feedback from the PhET team.


Student motivation

In a workshop Alan Ryan and his colleagues from the University of Limerick discussed sources of motivation for both students and teachers. They asked teachers what aspects of  a course they thought would motivate students to learn and what would demotivate them. The same questions were asked to students. Both teachers and students indicated ‘interest and relevance of the subject’ and ‘receiving a high grade or credit’ as the two most motivating factors. For students however, the enthusiasm of the teacher (3rdplace) and his or her positive attitude to the students were also important for motivation (6th place), whereas teachers expected clear objectives and course design to be more important. Looking at demotivating factors, the differences are even bigger. Students indicate that ‘negative feedback or lack of encouragement from the teacher’ and ‘lack of enthusiasm’ were the two main factors for causing demotivation. Teachers expect ‘dislike of the subject area and unclear objectives’ to be the most important factors. Apparently the teacher plays a more important role in student motivation than we tend to think. The way we approach students, the feedback we give and the way we show passion for the subject matter greatly affect the way our students are engaged in learning.

Calgary Campus


Another highlight relates to the venue of the conference, the campus of the University of Calgary which together with an excellent organisation made the occasion a very pleasant one. Apart from the Olympic Oval with skaters training for next winters competition, in particular the engineering education buildings stands out with respect to their education facilities. The newest engineering building is fully dedicated to the bachelor engineering education courses, projects and labs. Next to these buildings, the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning has all facilities for supporting staff development.


Aldert Kamp


In the closing session Aldert Kamp (TUD / 4TU.CEE Delft chair) was chosen as co-director CDIO. Congratulations Aldert! The University of Twente presented itself as a new CDIO member receiving great interest on the Twente Educational model.









By Emiel van Puffelen, WUR

Earlier Jan van der Veen presented education highlights of two Swiss technical universities: EPFL at Lausanne and ETH at Zürich that the 4TU.CEE staff visited this spring. There was so much inspiration that we need a second blog to inform you of all that we learned. We hope to inspire you too! Click on the links in the text for more information.

Discovery Learning Laboratories
I particularly want to mention the Discovery Learning Laboratories (DLL) at EPFL. The DLLs are thematic spaces for lab sessions that can be integrated into the curriculum of all studies. These spaces are adapted for teaching large groups, generally at BSc level. The DLLs were started up 4 years ago to bring students from different fields together in cross-disciplinary teaching labs. It was also a way to cope with the growing number of students, since hands-on courses could not be offered to them at the same time. Students can sign in for a lab session on the website which shows availability. All 4TU have similar projects and it is nice to evaluate and make new plans while looking at the EPFL approach!

MOOC research and innovation programme
EPFL also has an extensive MOOC research and innovation programme, which is not being used as a promotion tool, but set up to transform online education. EPFL knows how students watch their video clips and which type of teachers are doing well with MOOCS. Research and innovation includes: Tracking behaviour for plagiarism detection; an environment which enables 4 to 5 individuals to watch MOOCs and solve exercises together; social media and multimedia research to characterize (non)verbal behaviour of social video users, to build tools for interaction with online video.

MOOC production with front and ceiling camera, Wacom and displays for the teacher.

MOOC clips are easily made with a 30 seconds intro with the teacher in frame; after that her/his hands are shown in the interaction with a Wacom tablet. The teachers produce clips without assistants using a front and ceiling camera. The Wacom eliminates the need for animations. This works fine for EPFL!


Speak up logo

An interesting interaction tool that EPFL developed with the University of Lausanne and that is frequently used in lectures is SpeakUp. This free app increases participation in the classroom by providing an open chatroom for anonymous questions with no need to create an account. Students can vote on the questions they like to see answered and discuss their opinions. After 24 hours the ‘virtual room’ disappears again. Interesting fact is that twice as many questions are asked with SpeakUp than without.


Education at ETH

The compact education vision of ETH has inspiring focuses on interdisciplinary, system-oriented & critical thinking. It also defines quality criteria for teaching for curricula and courses and the university’s expectations of all those engaged in teaching processes, from students to lecturers to administrative and technical staff.

Lunch at ETH Zürich

The ETH department Educational Development and Technology couples teachers with their education developers for a few days. This department promotes innovation in education by the Innovedum fund. They support 20 projects per year of approximately 100.000 francs per project. Projects last 2-3 years and support of education developers is available. Furthermore ETH has an innovative programme for educational staff development including a programme for every level of teaching experience  and nice refresh teaching lunchtime events.

EPFL and ETH are both top universities offering exciting innovations in education and they are very willing to share their education vision, programmes and practical approach, which is highly appreciated! Their inspiration is right under your mouse button!


Blog by Perry den Brok, Eindhoven University of Technology

Universities of Technology are currently facing a range of developments with respect to their education. For example, interdisciplinary engineering research and education are gaining momentum. Yet, teachers and researchers are struggling with the boundaries that are created by departments and faculties, and current metrics for performance do not appraise interdisciplinary work. Also, universities are being confronted with large increases in their student population, both in terms of numbers as well as variety, cultural, motivational or other. Technology is picked up for the support and deliverance of courses and assesment; blended approaches or MOOCs are common phenomena.

Deans of engineering faculties accross Europe discussed these themes during their annual ECED (European Convention of Engineering Deans) meeting in Munich on April 3 and 4, 2017. The meeting was hosted by the Technische Universitӓt München and co-convened by CESAER (the Conference of European Schools for Advanced engineering Education and Research) and SEFI (the European Society for Engineering Education).

During the convention, the deans discussed three major topics, namely research, education and governance. The first topic mainly dealt with how to support and appraise research that engages in interdisciplinary engineering research in a reality in which metrics and other rewards are mainly gained via disciplinary systems. The last topic dealt with the type of leadership that is needed in universities to support new streams of research and innovations in education, especially in an age of uncertainty. Although important and interesting, given the nature of 4TU.CEE to focus on innovations in engineering education, most attention will be directed here to the topic of education. Interesting youtube contributions from participating deans about research and education can be found at the ECED 2017 website.

Participants of ECED 2017 (Aldert Kamp and Perry den Brok from 4TU.CEE are on the left and front of the picture – see the red arrow).


A question that comes to mind is what topics or themes emerge accross universities of technology in Europe. What developments are occuring and what type of initiatives are universities taking? From the various speakers and contributions to ECED, the following topics came to the fore:

  1. More and more interdiciplinary courses or curricula are being developed, often preceded by interdisciplinary research projects or groups. Interesting challenges that teachers in such contexts face are how to integrate different topics or domains, how to motivate students from different domains, and how to assess interdisciplinary tasks with teachers that are often experts in one domain. This topic is also being recognised by 4TU.CEE as an important theme and much research effort is being invested in it.
  2. There is more and more emphasis on the fact that a variety of engineers is being educated, with different types of profiles, such as the technological oriented engineer, the societal oriented engineer, or the entrepeneurial engineer.
  3. Many universities are struggling with how to integrate skills into their curricula. Such skills include more general 21st century skills such as intercultural communication or collaboration, but also more engineering specific skills, such as problem solving or creative and design thinking.
  4. Many universities are experimenting with so-called maker-spaces, in which students can work on real-life, complex and interdisciplinary projects that interweave learning, research and innovation. More in general, a trend can be seen towards more student oriented education, with more emphasis on deep learning, opportunities for choice for students, and student-centred teaching methods. Examples of maker spaces can be found at Aalborg and other Scandinavian universities. But 4TU.CEE also encountered a nice example at EPFL during their last study trip.
  5. Universities are more and more concerned about providing students during their curricula with experiences in which they collaborate with companies or in which they learn from alumni. Such experiences may involve outreach, but also deal with guest visits or lectures, internships, or even specific professional development programmes.

Finally, some interesting observations were made by the two 4TU.CEE members that participated in the meeting (den Brok and Kamp). First, the question was raised as to whether universities would still exist in 2040, if they continue with their current education and rate of change. More and more examples are visible in which students obtain certificates and degrees via alternative programmes and are being accepted by companies. Universities thus have to think seriously about their added value, in particular in terms of the on-campus experiences they are able to provide. Second, it was mentioned that students are often a driver for change, and should be acknowledged as such. Much can be learned from their input on education.

A taskforce will be created by CESAER in order to formulate a vision on Engineering Education for the future, that will also be shared with the European Union. 4TU.CEE will participate actively in this taskforce. This will materialise in a first meeting of the taskforce, to be held in Eindhoven on May 12, 2017. To be continued!



Blog by Jan van der Veen, University of Twente

Representatives of the four Dutch universities of technology involved in 4TU.CEE investigated what could be learned from the two Swiss technical universities at Lausanne (EPFL) and Zürich (ETH) during a two-day visit this March. Both rank among the top technical universities worldwide, and we were very curious to hear more about their innovations in engineering education. The grass is always greener on the other side, and yes, we did find many inspiring examples, here are some ‘snapshots’.

Learning spaces

The Rolex Learning Center

At the border of Lake Geneva the EPFL Rolex Learning Center is a meandering building made out of concrete and glass. Light is coming from unexpected angles. Students and staff meet at their own convenience. Besides the library and study places there are numerous meeting spots. The welcoming nature of the building invites students to get together and jointly work on projects. Both at EPFL and ETH new facilities are planned for student groups that can design and build their own creative solutions while promoting a multi-disciplinary approach. Clearly new learning environments and new learning scenarios go hand in hand.

Interactive teaching

‘MOOC’ studio at EPFL
An interesting side-effect of MOOC productions at EPFL is that the MOOC resources are now widely used within regular courses. This fits within a trend moving away from large audience lecturing to dedicated online material in combination with quality time when staff and well-prepared students meet in smaller groups. At ETH a special app enables students to find their way in the myriad of buildings in the city center. At the same time teachers use this Edu-app to interact with those attending lectures, for example by posing questions that students first discuss before responding via the app. This activates learners while giving lecturers direct feedback with respect to what is understood. New tools such as Go-Lab, shown at EPFL, allow teachers to combine their own educational scenario with existing simulations.

Online examinations
Digital testing at ETH allows for the integration into the test of programming tools or other software enabling authentic tests of competencies. Also in the online world one searches for a fit between the learning scenarios and virtual spaces and tools.

Want to know more?
For us it was an interesting trip, exchanging many ideas and discussing how we can support the uptake of new opportunities. Would you like to receive more information about how innovation projects at EPFL and ETH Zürich might be beneficial to your educational innovations? Contact your 4TU.CEE representative to find out, or send an e-mail to:



Blog by Emiel van Puffelen (WUR)

Duikvaker 2017, a large Dutch diving exhibition held in February, featured a proud team of TU Delft students, who showcased their human-powered submarine (WASUB, 2017). Their design required a lot of courage to make, and even more to pilot. I noticed that these students were highly motivated. And they succeeded in making a complex and world record breaking design. Their success is not an exception. Other student teams from technical universities in Delft, Twente and Eindhoven won the last world solar challenge (first- and second prizes in Challenger Class, and first prize in Cruiser Class, respectively). These student teams created state-of-the-art designs. So, it would appear that their teachers has helped them by creating well designed engineering courses. But what is a well-designed course?

Figure 1: Four levels of ILO (CDIO 2014)

CDIO_ILOFirstly, course design should be based on a well-constructed curriculum and properly formulated intended learning outcomes (ILOs). This is not easily attained. An option is to use the CDIO Approach (Crawley, Malmqvist, Östlund, Brodeur, & Edström, 2014), which should yield the four levels of ILOs shown in Figure 1.

There are many other approaches that usually yield ILOs on different levels, such as knowledge, skills and integration.
The ILOs are the starting point in creating Teaching and Learning Activity’s (TLAs), as well as Assessment. ILOs, TLAs and Assessment should be aligned (Biggs & Tang, 2011), as shown in this clip (Grob & Kotkamp, 2014).

The core of course design is selecting TLAs. That requires an open mind on how students learn and considering the use of each available type of TLA. Laurillard (2012, 2016) synthesised a list of TLAs from theories of learning:

Acquisition: reading, watching, listening.
Inquiry: using resources to develop an evidence-based output.
Discussion: debating, questioning, answering, negotiating ideas.
Practice: acting, in the light of feedback, to achieve a goal or output.
Collaboration: working with others to achieve a joint output.
Production: making something for others to evaluate against agreed criteria.

All types of TLAs can be seen in traditional campus education and they can also be supported online. In both cases, the processes shown in Figure 2 are supported.

Figure 2: TLAs and supported processes (based on Laurillard 2012, 2016)


Most Learning Management Systems (LMS) were developed to support the TLAs shown on the left side of Figure 2 (Acquiring, Inquiring, Producing and Practising) and sometimes they extend to those on the right side of Figure 2 (discussing and collaborating) in newer versions. However, a separate, specialised LMS might still be required for the best options with the TLAs on the right side.

Often, a large part of Figure 2 needs to be included in a course. One ILO might require different types of TLAs and the course set of ILOs might require more. In addition, a workflow of TLAs (such as reading, developing evidence-based output, debating) might be needed to reach an ILO, especially for engineering. Differences in learning styles and learning theories also point in the direction of combining different TLAs. Last, but not least, combining TLAs is necessary to engage students and keep them surprised!


A smart design of a combination of (many) types of TLAs is needed to create top-quality university courses.

Part of a smart design is the choice between on-campus and online versions of each TLA. Practical reasons (group size, available time, facilities, and curriculum standards) might dictate that choice. However, for engineering education there are limits in replacing on campus TLAs by online work. In general, the TLAs on the left side of the Figure 2 can be achieved with media resources (online, books etc). Most universities have a long tradition in this, and new developments, such as knowledge clips and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are creating more options. However, higher level engineering ILOs (above 1 CDIO) require rich on-campus collaboration work that cannot be completely offered online. Meet the TU Delft submarine students to find out why.


Biggs, J. B., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for Quality Learning at University (4th Revised edition ed.). Milton Keynes, United Kingdom: Open university press.
Crawley, E. F., Malmqvist, J., Östlund, S., Brodeur, D. R., & Edström, K. (2014). Rethinking Engineering Education; The CDIO Approach (2 ed.): Springer International Publishing.
Grob, M. A. G., & Kotkamp, E. (Writers). (2014). Constructive Alignment, TU Delft Beeldbank: Delft University of Technology.
Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Laurillard, D. (2016). Learning in the context of education; The conversational Framework. Presentation at the Online Educa Berlin 2016, Berlin.
WASUB. (2017). WASUB VII ​TU Delft Dream Team.   Retrieved 7 februari 2017, from



4TU.CEE has started a monthly weblog. The 4TU.CEE leaders of our four universities of technology will alternately post a blog. The weblog informs interested followers of developments in education and society that are of importance to the future of engineering education.

The first weblog is written by Aldert Kamp of TU Delft and is entitled: Educating engineers for a resource constrained future: do we understand what we are doing? Which was the theme of the CDIO Regional Meeting that took place on 12 and 13 January 2017 in Dublin.