Blog by Antoine van den Beemt, 4TU.CEE TU Eindhoven

The third webinar in the series on challenge-based education at the 4TUs focused on challenge-based learning (CBL) in TU/e innovation Space. It followed successful webinars by TU Delft and University of Twente.

On the 14th of April, TU/e CEE leader prof. Birgit Pepin welcomed over 40 participants to the webinar. Prof. Isabelle Reymen, scientific director TU/e innovation Space, introduced them to the innovation Space project Master’s course. This was followed by a report of the research project on interdisciplinarity in CBL, and a plenary discussion presented by dr. Antoine van den Beemt of the Eindhoven School of Education.

CBL in TU/e innovation Space

Both presentations focused on CBL in the context of TU/e innovation Space, that recently won the first Dutch Higher Education Award. Using the TU/e developed instrument CBL-compass, Isabelle Reymen introduced and evaluated the specific characteristics of the Master’s course ‘innovation Space project’. The presentation clarified how students in this project work from a business and entrepreneurial point of view on challenges. These challenges are brought to the table by external stakeholders and concern real-life societal problems.

Learning objectives of the innovation Space

Isabelle explained how students from engineering domains such as chemistry or physics are pushed out of their comfort zones by being forced to think from an entrepreneurial point of view. She also showed how coaches support the students in the process of working towards a viable concept and how the innovation Space offers an inspiring context by facilitating students with materials and spaces.

The presentation was followed by a Q&A with participants, which addressed practical aspects related to organising the course and contact with external stakeholders. Other questions concerned the learning process not only for students, but also for coaches and stakeholders.

Interdisciplinarity in CBL
Antoine van den Beemt presented the results from a study on interdisciplinarity in CBL, which included the ‘innovation Space project’ and other innovation Space courses. Interdisciplinarity was discussed as an integration of disciplines, with team members speaking ‘one language’ as intended end result. In reality it turned out that students more often learned to understand each other’s language, rather than actually developed a shared language. Other issues include the question how staff that is educated in one single discipline can assess interdisciplinary efforts of students. This remains one of the challenging issues for CBL.

The plenary discussion following these two presentations involved the participants perception of CBL, the development of rigorous discipline knowledge, and what kind of characteristics are needed before we can speak of ‘CBL’.

Both presentations and the discussion showed the specific approach of CBL in TU/e, allowing for a bottom-up approach with a variety in characteristics. This variety within departments adds to a local colour of CBL at TU/e.

More information
Want to know more? You can find the full video of both presentations here. Join us for the next session on the 19th of May at WUR.

About the webinar series
4TU.CEE started a new webinar series on challenge-based-education at the 4TUs. Many good inspiring initiatives already exist in curricula. We wish to engage in an open debate about the best ways to implement challenge-based learning at the 4TUs.

The series respectively focuses on:


Blog by Chris Rouwenhorst 4TU.CEE programme coordinator at University of Twente

After the first successful webinar by TU Delft on the 16th of February, the 2nd webinar, hosted by the University of Twente focused on interdisciplinarity in challenge based education. Ineke ten Dam welcomed around 60 participants on the 18th of March.

Shaping 2030
Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is at the heart of the strategic plan “Shaping 2030”of the University of Twente. The UT will contribute to society through intensive interaction. Authentic challenges from external providers/society play an essential role in this. The idea is that the UT will empower society through sustainable solutions and that society will shape the UT in return.

There are many examples of projects at the University of Twente which involve challenges at different levels: both extra-curricular (like the student teams and the autumn challenge) and in the Bachelor and Master programmes. Moreover, the UT is the project leader of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU) which aims to be a fully challenge based University.

The focus in the webinar is on two examples of CBL at the UT.  The bachelor module Science to Society and the master programme Spatial Engineering which is fully built around challenges.

CBL in the bachelor
In the first presentation K. Nizamis ( and Coralie Johnson MSc ( inspired us with challenge based learning in the High-Tech Human Touch minor: Science to Society: From Idea to Prototype. Students from different disciplines worked together in groups of six to tackle the challenges. It was found that the students appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of their projects, the real-life context and that it broadens their perspectives. Some of the challenges for lecturers include balancing the workload for students and lecturers.

Challenges in interdisciplinary student teams
Coralie also talked about prejudice, communication and collaboration issues within interdisciplinary teams in different modules at the UT. For example, some communication problems arose in around half of the groups, these mainly centered around distinctions in disciplinary language or knowledge gaps between disciplines. Collaboration issues involved the task balance and some more general teamwork issues (setting standards, decisions etc.). As a means to address some of the highlighted issues,  some improvements were proposed.  A team contract was used for students to set expectations, and self-directed learning resources (mini courses, e.g resources on conflict management, project management etc.) were provided for self-study.

The team contract was used by many groups (91%) and had interesting results although not everyone referred to the team contracts after composing them. The self-directed learning resources were used by around a third of the students and 26% of which, were teamwork skills resources. The future question remains, whether there is a better way to educate teamwork skills.

The question was raised whether students are better in reflecting at their own discipline or the other discipline. It seemed that in this project, students from psychology are more able to reflect on their own discipline than engineers. 

CBL in the master
Dr. Thomas Groen ( continued with the 2nd presentation and gave us insights in CBL from the MSc programme Spatial Engineering. It was impressive to see that the master has been completely built around challenges in wicked problems.

Three different knowledge areas need to be integrated to tackle these wicked problems. These areas are (1) Technical Engineering, (2) spatial planning & governance and (3) spatial information. Students in the programme have a BSc in one or more of these knowledge areas.  The profile of the spatial engineer (see image) was also very interesting.

The master is built upon challenges in the first three quartiles. It is interesting to see that the challenges grow in complexity and size. The complexity increases for example on the number of stakeholders and ‘fuzziness’ of the challenge.  

One of the lessons learned is that a challenge is a vehicle for learning and that group work on a challenge is a great way to “train” skills. Discussions after the presentations went into how students are really independent (conscious about choices) in this programme and that they also define a focus of learning in their personal development plan.

After the two presentations the participants interacted with each other on a Miro Board in break out groups. They discussed their own experiences and gave tips and advice to the presenters. Some interesting questions were addressed like:

  • How to scale the assessment procedure, is it doable to have oral exams (and reports)
  • How to assure interdisciplinarity in a degree programme?

The development in complexity from Thomas was seen as a useful addition and could be used in other educational programmes as well. We had a successful 2nd webinar and are really looking forward to the next one.

More information
Want to know more? You can find the full video of both presentations here.  Join us for the next session on the on the 14th of April, when it’s TU Eindhoven’s turn to show how they incorporate CBE.

About the webinar series
4TU.CEE started a new webinar series on challenge-based-education at the 4TUs. Many good inspiring initiatives already exist in curricula. We wish to engage in an open debate about the best ways to implement challenge-based learning at the 4TUs.

The series respectively focuses on:

  • How to get a challenge for challenge-based learning? – TU Delft
  • How to realise interdisciplinarity in challenge-based education? – University of Twente
  • How to realise challenge-based education in innovation spaces? – TU Eindhoven
  • How to prepare students with professional skills for challenge-based education? – WUR
  • How is challenge-based education realised in other European countries?


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

Higher education organisations have been forced into online education by the corona pandemic. The results of the “chase the sunlight” online conference of CDIO in November 2020 show that universities and polytechnics worldwide were able to make that shift rapidly. In general problems and unwanted consequences are reported in combination with a “but we could do it” message.  Some of the remarks seem to indicate options for change in post-pandemic education design as well.

In the last months of 2020, Wageningen University & Research (WUR) conducted a small-scale survey to determine what education innovation topics are requested by lecturers and other university staff for 2022. It is hoped that from 2022 onwards the pandemic will have less influence on education and that the lessons learned during the pandemic can be used in combination with other ideas to improve education.

Photo by: Marte Hofsteenge

Ideas for education design from 2022 onwards

The survey response was limited to 17 persons, that gave 75 free-text reactions in total. Also, 85 Likert scale scores on the importance of topics were given. Even with this small number of persons, this combination provided a wealth of information.

Most responses were on balance between online and face to face teaching. In general, the respondents see options for more online education than before the pandemic. But they stress the importance of the role of face to face and campus education. That is not much different from pre-pandemic opinions as described by Van Puffelen, van Berkum and Diederen (2018).

The ideas on more online education are not merely about flipping the classroom. Flipping the classroom often focuses on exchanging two forms of Teaching and Learning Activities (TLA’s). Most ideas in the survey responses require optimising the complete combination of TLA’s geared towards higher learning goals and more active and personalised learning. This can be achieved by selecting TLA’s on their characteristics towards types of learning and by creating a smart design using various kinds of TLA’s as described by Van Puffelen (2017).

In the years before the pandemic, the reported education innovation at 4TU was more on course than on programme level (Van Puffelen & Vonk, 2020). In 2020, the pandemic shift towards online education could only be done by quick changes on course level. That might still be on the responders’ minds as quite some remarks were on course level.

But there were remarks on programme level as well. One respondent requested assistance on programme innovation. And many comments were about learning goals at the programme level for the skills needed in the future. The ideas for those learning goals differ amongst the respondents. Some feel that the recent introduction of more general skills education has already caused an insufficient focus on academic skills and the connection between research and education. Whilst others see a clear need to focus more on other skills, including IT and a value-creating mind-set as seen in challenged based and entrepreneurial education.

In the present situation at WUR, there are courses on general skills. And all master students have creative academic consultancy type education. In addition, there are student challenges and options resulting from an effective entrepreneurial education policy. This resulted in some “this is enough” reactions. In general, there seems to be a need for a new balance and integrated plan for all types of skills mentioned above. Research into the existing situation might be a good first step for that.

This survey is a first step to add post-pandemic lessons to the publications on education design for new challenges, in the ResearchGate project. In 2021 publications combining information of all 4TU, CDIO and other sources will be added.



Blog by Renate Klaassen, Programme coordinator 4TU.CEE Delft

Challenge-based education is becoming increasingly popular to prepare Higher Education students for the complexity of real-life challenges. Higher Education Institutions are experimenting and establishing what type of learning formats work best to engage students in challenge-based learning, to both realise the deep-learning and increased motivation it propagates.


Webinar series

4TU is equally aware of the relevance and dilemmas faced in designing this new kind of education. Therefore the four Universities of Technology  have started a webinar series on challenge-based education to learn from each other’s best practices. The series respectively focuses on:

  • How to get a challenge for challenge-based learning? – TU Delft
  • How to realise interdisciplinarity in challenge-based education? – University of Twente
  • How to realise challenge-based education in innovation spaces? – TU Eindhoven
  • How to prepare students with professional skills for challenge-based education? – WUR
  • How is challenge-based education realised in other European countries?

The Quintuple Helix system

On the 16th of February, the 1st webinar series started with contributions from the Joint Interdisciplinary Project by course manager Birgit de Bruin and the PhD research of Nina Bohm, related to Living Lab education within MSc MADE and the City Deal Kennis Maken. In these contexts, challenges are framed as open, dynamic, interdependent and complex (Dorst, 2017) and operating at different systems levels, following the Quintuple Helix system. In the Quintuple Helix system, new knowledge is built parallel in different systems such as University, Industry, Government, Society and the Natural Environment. (Carayannis et al., 2012). Naturally, this involves multiple stakeholders and should allow individual and team goals to be realised in collaboration and matching with the stakeholders’ goals.

One-stop-shop desk

In this 1st webinar, we mainly looked at how a challenge comes into being. In both presentations, it became apparent that the network with external partners is essential. Many initiatives start as a spin-off from other activities/ official collaborative agreements/ serendipitous encounters or a one-stop-shop desk at the university where all the challenges are submitted and redistributed across university education.

System level thinking

Interestingly, preparing for this type of education does not start a few weeks in advance but takes a whole year to prepare and is typically embedded in a bigger context than just a problem at a local level in government or a company. Often the challenges are related to the Sustainable Development Goals and require the students to think beyond the immediate needs of a client contributing to the system levels “society and the natural environment”. Thus, creating sustainable and technological innovations, which are the core-focus of the engineering curriculum.

Necessary student skills

Students’ learning goals necessitate developing professional skills/ transversal skills – interdisciplinary skills and complex problem solving, evaluative judgment and ethical acumen, collaboration, and communication skills for team work. Additionally, students should apply research/design/innovation methodologies acquired during the bachelor/master programmes and (new) content objectives particular to the challenge’s context.

Key-questions from the audience related to the paradox of openness and the closed structures of education, such as:

  • How do students acquire the skill to work independently?
  • How does the activity fit the regular curriculum?
  • What challenges do the staff encounter in guiding the students?
  • How does the structure of education link to the openness of, e.g. living labs/co-creation etc.?
  • How do students find (learning) resources in these educational contexts?

More information

Want to know more? Please watch this 1st session here and join us for the next on the 18th of March 2021!

If you have any questions related to the recording or this blog, you can contact the presenters at:

More information about the projects can also be found on the 4TU.CEE Innovation Map: Joint Interdisciplinary Project and City Deal Kennis Maken.

WUR Teachers Day(s) 2020

Blog by Nicolette Tauecchio, 4TU.CEE programme coordinator and Perry den Brok, chairman 4TU.CEE


This year’s WUR Teachers Day was, as all things are this year due to Covid19, organised a bit differently. Instead of a one day face-to-face event, it was spread over several days in virtual sessions. The four-day programme provided sessions on online and blended education (tools, apps, design of activities, the Covid19 transition), transdisciplinary education and learning (developing boundary crossing, authentic environments, principles in complex courses such as the Academic Consultancy Training  or ACT) and innovative assessment (rubrics, formative/summative assessment). It seems as if most innovations at WUR at this moment have a main focus on the course level.

Dynamic year
Dean of education at WUR, Arnold Bregt, opened the Teachers Day(s), looking back on a difficult and dynamic year, calling 2020 an educational landmark. Though, 2020 also had a positive side with a lot of educational innovations, home labs and successful online activities, such as the BSc open day. The dean of education thanked the WUR teachers for their great efforts in switching to online/hybrid teaching. There is no denying in the fact that they experienced a strong increased work pressure due to Covid19. Students, as well, seemed not that happy with the online-situation and reported to feel less motivated, though success rates remained good overall. Concerns from the teachers were expressed on the students and their well-being.

Research, learning activities and future education

The activities of 4TU.CEE were well represented, mostly via contributions by staff of the Education and Learning Sciences (ELS) chair group. Tim Stevens organised a Q&A session on his research “The Transition to Online Education during the Corona Crisis Situation at WUR”. Also, the members of the Boundary Crossing (BC) project presented their learning activities/trajectories, outcomes thus far and BC implementations in several study programmes at WUR. Finally, Perry den Brok, chair of both ELS and 4TU.CEE, asked the teachers for input on what they felt is important for their own future education. This input will be used to formulate the 4TU.CEE strategic plan 2022-2025. Next to topics such as entrepreneurial learning skills, developing skills for responsible and sustainable engineering, the audience mentioned topics such as student resilience and well-being, and attention for teaching excellence, for example considering a Senior Qualification in Teaching (SQT). The Teachers Days were closed by Perry den Brok, by looking back on the sessions and looking ahead to innovations yet to come and the 2021 Teachers Day.

A sense of community

The sessions were well visited, with 30 to 100 attendees each session, among them teachers and education support staff. Although all sessions were organised virtually, they were highly interactive, engaging the attendees with pad lets, interactive forms & presentations, chats and break out rooms, giving them the opportunity to ask questions, comment on things and take part in discussions. Teachers pointed out that there was a positive atmosphere and a sense of belonging during the sessions and that they felt part of a real community.

What will 2021 bring?

Looking ahead at what’s still in store, WUR will implement the new student information system, Osiris, in 2021. Also, Education career paths for teacher development will be implemented and a professionalisation fund will become available for teachers. Skills learning lines for the Bachelor will be developed and there will be further elaboration on the new Master structure, with more attention for career orientation and further flexibility in creating a personal programme. The alliance between TU/e, WUR, UU and UMCU will be launched, focusing on expanding challenge based learning and life-long learning within and between the four institutes. Finally, technological innovation (EdTech) will play an important role in 2021 and if Covid19 allows it, WUR will focus on ‘returning to normal’.


Blog by Renate Klaassen, 4TU.CEE Programme coordinator at TU Delft

The second webinar on “Rewarding and Recognising Teaching Excellence” of the 27th of November, looked at the progress made in collaborative, country-wide changes to university reward systems and the challenges and opportunities associated with national reform.

Nation-wide reform
In a brief introduction Pieter Duisenberg, president of VSNU, stressed the importance of this topic and warmly welcomed the invited speakers to share their different perspectives on nation-wide implementation approaches. Ruth Graham, our host and moderator, explained that each invited speaker would represent a different approach to the nation-wide reform.

The Netherlands offers insights into a bottom-up approach towards a teaching reward framework.  The local initiatives quickly gathered momentum and have been championed across most research universities and support organisations to be carried forward. The Danish universities took the lead in making a national framework, supported by the government. Finally, Malaysia presents a national framework designed at governmental level, which was forwarded as a framework to implement at each university. The speakers of each respective country are Rianne Letschert, Inger Askehave  and Mohd Saleh Jafaar. Rianne Letschert is Rector of the University of Maastricht and co-leader, besides rector Frank Baaijens of Eindhoven University of Technology, of the change initiative on advancing teaching with 14 universities in the Netherlands.  Inger Askehave, is Pro-Rector of Aalborg University and leading the change programme in Denmark and Mohd Saleh Jafaar is Director General at the Ministry of Education and in the lead of the career pathway framework for academic careers in Malaysia.

Rianne Letschert

Need for fundamental change
Rianne Letschert (University of Maastricht) spoke about the collaborative effort of 14 Dutch research-led universities to design and adopt a common framework for academic career pathways across all institutions that started in November 2019. The vision for this change, which incorporates the significant focus on rewarding teaching and learning, is outlined in the position paper, Room for Everyone’s Talent. Leveraging the commitment of multiple organisations, including open science, academic funding and knowledge institutes is necessary. Therefore a broad dialogue in academia nationally and internationally is needed to bring about a fundamental shift in beliefs and cultural values to change towards the recognition of teaching excellence. It is necessary to bring about a change in:

  • Diversifying and vitalising career paths
  • Achieving a balance between individuals and the collective appraisal of talent in academia, including research, teaching and leadership
  • Focusing on the quality of teaching
  • Stimulating open science

Expectations are that sharing ‘good practices’ and experimenting will initiate the desired movement. Eventually, the dialogue should result in a joined framework supported by all the universities and supportive organisations involved.

Inger Askehave

A flexible teaching framework
Inger Askehave (Aalborg University. Denmark) outlined how Denmark is in the process of revising proposals for a new national framework for ademic career pathways and the reward of teaching and learning, which is to be discussed by university leaders from all Danish universities in the coming months. The ambition is a nation-wide framework that will be available by spring 2021, which will allow universities to adapt the framework flexibly. To adapt the framework to their institutional context, it can, for example, include problem-based learning, which is a powerful model in Aalborg requiring different teaching skills. The teaching framework designed by Ruth Graham for the rewarding teaching excellence movement has strongly inspired the Danish teaching framework.

The focus in Denmark is on research, teaching and outreach. The framework should provide guidelines on the assessment and criteria for promotion on career progression, as well as realise support for life-long learning in the form of continuing professional development. Within the teaching part of the framework, the Danes intend to include two domains of action and four levels of proficiency in the didactic domain and colloquial domain. The didactic domain is addressing the execution and evaluation of teaching. The colloquial domain addresses the increased levels of proficiency in the role of co-creator of constructive learning environments and new educational programmes.

Mohd Saleh Jafaar

Fostering excellence in teaching
Mohd Saleh Jaafar (Former DG, Malaysian Ministry for Higher Education) set out how the Malaysian government recently called for all universities to adopt a new unified framework for academic career pathways. The framework, entitled the Differentiated Career Pathways, provides new routes for progression based on teaching and learning. Together with the National Blueprint in 2015, which had the primary aim to deliver excellent graduates, the national teaching framework for differentiating academic career paths have been outlined. With many  institutions of Higher Education, a centralised approach was needed with leeway for local interpretations and a strong emphasis on the importance of teaching for our future graduates. At the same time, teaching and research are and should be very strongly interrelated. Their interconnectedness consolidates the quality of education. However, the Malaysian government also recognises that different people have different talents. Therefore the main pillars of the framework are establishing a talent ecosystem to foster excellence, embracing the changing education landscape by including specialised roles, recognising different attributes of talent excellence and the alignment of talent development to the institutional mission. These pillars led to different profiles with different weights in the respective areas, research, teaching, services, management and leadership. Each is making a balanced contribution to the overall goal of an institution.

Involving younger generations
In the discussion, concerns were raised, such as: “How is the younger generation, who should benefit from this implementation of rewarding teaching excellence, involved?” In the Netherlands and Denmark, involving the younger generations in the discussion on formulating the framework is already realised. E.g. the Young Academy is bringing out a paper* on this topic in the Netherlands. In Malaysia, teacher platforms and national awards for teaching excellence provide younger academics with opportunities to show teaching excellence talents.

Mobility is another topic of concern as many young academics are appointed on temporary contracts and often forced to move around the world. They do not want to run the risk of not being recognised and rewarded on teaching excellence beyond the current institutions and suffer a career setback because of having to move on. The transfer of recognition, between institutes and between knowledge institutes and industry, is likely solved on a national level. In Malaysia for example postdocs are available for people who want to get industry experience, who then later return to academia. Internationally, this will need to grow upon the international academic community but currently this is a bridge too far.

Training PhD’s and postdocs
When we want teachers to shift focus in the future, it will also need a shift in focus on the training of PhDs and postdocs. They should get the opportunity to train for and focus on different career paths and not be required to do it all at the same time. Equally, the early adopters should not suffer un-reasonable setbacks in the system that will make them quit their academic career altogether.

Collective versus individual development
There is the issue of tension between the collective and individual development as the individual advancement should not be dependent on local managers who happen to be favourable towards the movement. Therefore government and institutions should require collective excellence of the universities in all areas and individual excellence based on the talents available.

Comenius discussions
After the webinar a follow-up discussion was organised by the Comenius network in the Netherlands. The most important observations in this discussion are the need for criteria and implementation to meet difficulties, for example with team-teaching, appointment based on change rather than career planning and early talent development options for young academics. The chance of success depends on a systemic change in which academic researchers, human resources, the teachers themselves and young academics are all crucial stakeholders. At the same time, the humans behind the criteria should not be lost out of sight. Nor should the quality of the teaching environment be neglected as ‘good teachers’ are not equivalent to a high quality of education.


*Footnote: (The Dutch Young Academy we will publish a paper on Monday the 30th of November using practical examples on why teaching excellence is essential and how we can put it into practice, using some inspiring examples from current practice in Dutch universities, in which we also focus on personal development plans and allowing diversification of trajectories



Webinar 23 November 2020

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


Ruth Graham

After years of collecting evidence and building a new teaching career framework, the Advancing Teaching network of Ruth Graham and an international coalition now moved online. As many are busy getting the framework up and running, for this webinar leaders from three frontrunning universities sketched how they implemented the new strategies. The high turn-out with approximately two hundred participants was a clear indicator of the urgency of this webinar.

Redefining career policies
In the welcome words Jeroen Geurts (chair of Dutch ZonMw) stipulated that all fourteen Dutch research-oriented universities have engaged in redefining their career policies, which will include recognition for excellent teaching. It is clear that these changes fit in with the international good practices presented in this webinar. The original live meeting in Amsterdam had to be cancelled, the webinars however allow for a wider international audience to join the debate about these important changes in the reward system. Ruth Graham then sketched how the international Advancing Teaching efforts progressed over the years. This includes a Teaching Cultures Survey that was implemented with more than 15.000 academics giving their opinion.

System-wide thinking

Manon Kluijtmans

Manon Kluijtmans (Utrecht University, the Netherlands) outlined how two decades of educational career pathways have brought substantial benefits to both the quality of education and to the individuals who excel in designing and implementing all sorts of new education. Substantial educational efforts are now integrated via strategic career path planning. She urged to not only focus on the promotion criteria and decisions. A change of culture requires a complete eco-system in which both teacher and career development are part of our daily academic life, the senior fellowships leading to a full professorship in 3 to 5 years’ time and the educational leadership program were highlighted as examples.


Joe Chicharo


Evaluating progress is important

Joe Chicharo (University of Wollongong, Australia) outlined how their new strategies were implemented since 2014 using A-E levels in the different task domains. It turned out that global impact was a difficult educational parameter whereas national impact that is used since 2017 works much better with the availability of national references that can confirm such impact. The transformation is now well accepted. Career promotion committees have a diverse panel and they also make use of external assessors. This is part of ongoing efforts to provide consistency of decisions. Evaluating progress is important to make the new system work as intended.

Sam Smidt



New system needs time and support

Sam Smidt (UCL, UK) stipulated that all different elements in the academic career should be valued in a career framework. Staff should meet threshold requirements on all relevant fields whereas they can choose core and specialist levels for either education, research, societal impact or organizational roles. Those that opt for promotion are asked to provide impact narratives to outline their achievements and sphere of impact. This new approach fits much better with the broad spectrum of academic tasks. Introduction of such a new system requires a number of years and support from the academic leaders across the university.

Sasha Roseneil

Sasha Roseneil (also UCL) sketched the UK unrest about academic teaching-only jobs that were temporary, low paid and not well connected to the academic career system. This has now been remedied at UCL to a large extend, illustrating that both mixed careers and teaching-only pathways should be taken care of in the development of new frameworks.

Educational quality and mobility

The debate with the audience focused on how educational achievements could be compiled and assessed with some example frameworks and other resources being shared via the session chat, such as Utrecht indicators of educational achievements, the UCL framework, a NASEM(US) workshop report and a journal article on developing teacher identity. The questions also touched on the risks of being locked-in when other universities do not have such pathways. All three presenters were confident that as long as you put quality first, these new career paths will not hinder mobility, with no examples of lock-in to their knowledge. Actually some additional mobility is found when universities are looking for educational quality as part of a job profile.

Jeroen Geurts

Just do it!

Jeroen Geurts wrapped up the session, highlighting the main lessons, emphasizing the need to start doing while realizing that this is a process that will take years as it requires cultural change. It requires iterations to fine tune and fit-in with the university context. He thanked Ruth Graham and the other organisers for organizing this timely and interesting webinar.


Blog by Renate Klaassen, 4TU.CEE programme coordinator at TU Delft

On 15 October 2020, we had a fascinating inspiration session with our special guest prof. Roland Tormey. He has a lot of lived experience researching education and teacher training activities. He now works at Ecole Polytechnique Lausanne (EPFL) for almost ten years. We are grateful for his sharing his experience and wisdom with 4TU teachers and educators. The topic of the inspiration session was on student learning in a team setting, in relation to engineering education specifically.

Student learning

Tormey: “Learning to work in a team on open-ended, complex projects is a key goal for engineering education. However, although engineering education programmes often include team projects, it is not always clear what these experiences teach students about teamwork and project management. Indeed, the micro-politics of student groups, the under-representation of women in engineering courses, and a lack of space for reflection mean that teams may even reinforce poor communication and planning practices as well as harmful gender stereotypes and biases. In EPFL we have tried to understand better what happens in student groups and to put in place strategies to aid student learning about (a) the management of interdisciplinary projects and (b) the interpersonal ethics of team membership and leadership.”

Roland shared with us the urgency and necessity to analyse the teamwork in (interdisciplinary) engineering education. In engineering, problems tend to be and become more complex, requiring more interdisciplinary collaboration and more team work to come up with viable solutions.

Learnings from high-performance teams

EPFL investigated “high-performance” teams in industry, i.e. groups of max. Fifteen persons bringing new products to market. It emerged that the more radical an innovation, the more gender/diverse the team composition was. Nancy Adler (2003), a well-known organisational specialist, indeed has found similar results and would extend this to include cultural diversity. The other factor was the level of expenditure on R&D inside but also outside the company. The higher the investment, the more radical the innovation.

The reason heterogeneity has such an impact is that groups: make more careful decisions (process), question assumptions and make more evidence-based decisions. Indeed Beers 2016, amongst others, also stipulates that constructive friction in the decision making process, does enhance social and radical innovation.

Obstacles of heterogeneous teams

Another significant reason to want to work in teams in Higher Education is that learning of the individual improves within a team setting of peer learning activities – as opposed to learning alone. It seems a very good reason to introduce interdisciplinary team-work as much as possible in higher education. Although it would make sense to choose for diverse teams in engineering education, to learn to solve engineering problems and to optimising learning and problem-solving skills, life is unfortunately not that simple. The reason is that there are several obstacles to be addressed in diverse teams from cultural and gender stereotyping, to language, discipline and even personality issues.

Social discomfort

The adverse effects of heterogeneous teamwork are social discomfort, and gender difference, high costs and socialisation in a discipline. Heterogeneous teams generate higher levels of discomfort as we tend to want to socialise with people who are like us. So unless we are stimulated to work in diverse groups, most of us will choose a comfortable team and working environment. Related to this social discomfort is the pressing issue in engineering education of the underrepresentation of women and the omnipotent male-dominant frame of reference. This has a profound impact on the well-being and performance of women in engineering (Aeby et al 2019, Cabo & Klaassen, 2019).


Moreover, it may be costly to work in diverse teams as it takes time to negotiate meaning explains Tormey in this talk (as does beers et. all 2016). If the problem is complex, the discussions are extensive, and the logistics equally increase with the team size. Therefore there is a trade-off between 1.) the level of diversity (gender, culture etc), 2.) the complexity of a problem, 3.) the number of team members involved and possibly even 4.) the physical distance of the team members.

This is confirmed for example by an EPFL study into 1st-year students working in diverse teams, who felt personality and communication style, culture and language (French Swiss students versus French French students) and disciplinary formation interfere with openness to other viewpoints and perspectives (Holzer et. al 2016).

What do students learn while working in teams?

The key question came however after 10 minutes: ‘Do students learn what they need to know in terms of skills from teamwork or do they learn something that is not intended?’ Would you like to know more about what the students did and did not learn and the implications of this fact, please view the recorded video of the inspiration session.

We want to thank Roland Tormey for this very interesting viewpoint on teamwork in engineering education, diversity and the ethics involved.


-Adler, N. (2003), International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, the International Executive 28(1), DOI: 10.1002/tie.5060280112, Edition: 4. ed., [Nachdr.], Publisher: South-Western, ISBN: 0-324-05786-5

-Aeby, P., Fong, R., Vukmirovic, M., Isaac, S. and Tormey, R. (2019), The impact of Gender on Engineering Students’ Group Work Experiences, International Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 35, No 3, 0949-149X/91 $3.00+0.00

-Beers, P.J., van Mierlo, B.C. & Hoes, A.C. (2016), Toward an Integrative Perspective on Social Learning in System Innovation Initiatives, in Ecology and Society 21(1):33,

-Cabo, A. & Klaassen, R.G. (2019), The influence of teacher cues on self-directed learning in Math Education, Proceedings of the 15th CDIO conference in Aarhus.

-Holzer, A. , Bendahan, S. ,Bragazza, L, Cardia, I.V., ….. Tormey, R. ( 2016), Increasing the perspectives of Engineering Undergraduates on Societal Issues through an Interdisciplinary programme, International Journal of Engineering Education, (retrieved from research gate)





4TU.CEE is co-organisor of the SEFI2020 conference. This blog is part of the SEFI2020 blog series.

Blog by Nina Bohm, PhD candidate at TU Delft

Watching the online keynote of Ruth Graham is somewhat like the scientific equivalent of going to a pop concert. Over a hundred colleagues from the international engineering education community tuned in this afternoon at the SEFI conference, to hear Graham present to us the progression of university teaching around the world. I felt in many ways a scientific ‘groupie’. At times, slightly in awe for seeing the researcher I read so much work from up close, but mainly, excited for the perspective she was going to share today.

Pop icon
In the engineering education field, Graham is a pop icon. In her unparalleled academic career, she has dedicated most of her work to higher education reform. Speaking to thousands of professionals in universities across the world, over the years, her research has offered a mirror, in which we are asked to take a critical look at the progression of engineering education globally. Almost every report that she produces causes a wave of discussion in the engineering education community. The discussion today at the SEFI conference is no exception.


The mirror that Graham so eloquently presented to us today comes from the findings of her most recent study ‘Teaching Cultures Survey 2019‘. Graham: “If there is one thing that 9 out of 10 academic professionals mention as a challenge in university teaching, it is the reward system.” The survey showed that there is a widespread perception of disparity between reward of teaching and reward of research in higher education. This is probably not an unfamiliar observation for most people in the online conference.

Rewarding of teaching achievement

Challenges in rewarding teaching
Graham identifies two main challenges in the reward system of university teaching. Firstly, the absence of clear and accepted definitions of progressive ‘levels’ of teaching achievement that punctuate each stage of the career ladder. The graph above shows that currently apart from the very start of the very end of the scale teaching achievement is rewarded and Graham points out that this should be a much more cascaded system. Secondly, the inadequacy of the forms of evidence currently used to demonstrate and evaluate the teaching contribution of academics at each stage in their career progression. This is the familiar dilemma that it is much easier to measure research outputs than it is to measure education outputs.

Collaborative movement for change
As PhD candidate working on the crossroads between education science and an engineering discipline, the prospect of becoming part of a broken reward system is daunting. If a PhD ever was a strategic career choice to begin with, then definitely not in the area of higher education, seems to be the implicit conclusion of the chat discussion going on in parallel with Graham’s presentation. However, Graham’s own conclusion is not pessimistic at all. Not only does she offer alternatives (also read the report ‘Improving University Reward for Teaching‘), she also shows that there is a significant collaborative movement amongst our own community for changing these academic career pathways and reward systems.

Flexibility is key
The change that I seem to find most appealing is to work towards a more flexible system that allows us to move between research and education during our careers. Although single tracks, where the focus is either on research or on education, might seem more efficient, the university is not meant to be an institute of silos. Research and education should not be separated as two competing activities within the same organisation. They are both indispensable to the academic process. If there is one career pathway that proofs this, it is that of Ruth Graham herself. It is, therefore, rewarding to see that just shortly after her presentation, she received the Leonardo Medal as a reward for that outstanding contribution of international significance to engineering education. Every community needs its pop icons to give us, a younger generation, something to look up to.




4TU.CEE is co-organisor of the SEFI2020 conference. This blog is part of the SEFI2020 blog series.

Blog by Laura Menschaart, researcher at TU Delft

Prof. Van der Steenhoven, director general of the KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute) set out to tell us how climate change and the COVID-19 crisis are related, and what we can learn from this as educators.

A time-consuming debate

After viewing satellite images of waning Antarctica and escalating graphs on the increase of CO2 emission in the past decades, prof. Van der Steenhoven stresses that whenever climate change is discussed, it is hard not to invoke political opinions and emotions. In teaching, too, more often than not this leads to a lively debate and lengthy discussions among students. Although interesting and engaging, this is generally time-consuming.

This illustrates why it is important to separate science from political standpoints. With relatively simple facts, Van der Steenhoven proposes to us that climate change is our doing and cannot be explained by other (natural) factors, even if human beings were to be taken out of the equation. He elaborates on four commonly encountered criticisms to climate change – briefly recapped below – and systematically argues against them.

  1. Historical ignorance (‘the earth has seen much higher global average temperatures in the past’). Counterargument: see image: ‘CO2 history’.
  2. Hubris (‘mankind is unable to influence the composition of the atmosphere, it is too complex a system’). Counterargument: observable COVID-19 effects: humanity does influence the atmosphere.
  3. Fatalism (‘mankind is only fighting wars; it is naive to think we can do anything with 193 nations together’) Counterargument: the Montreal protocol of 1989, phasing out emission on substances that deplete the ozone layer, is a worldwide intervention.
  4. Time is over (‘there is not enough time left to mitigate the effects of climate change’). Counterargument: All calculations come down to roughly the same number: 30 years left to take (drastic) measures.

Van der Steenhoven seems to especially take pleasure in the discussion that follows. While discussing the fascinating idea of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere – in addition to reducing CO2 output – his posture relaxes and his speech and gestures accelerate. “There is always a trade-off”, prof. Van der Steenhoven explains. For example, removing CO2 from the atmosphere by creating genetically modified algae might be a beneficial idea, “…but these algae, which are absorbing CO2, and that are sunk to the bottom of the sea, will have no negative effects? We should at least ask that question. This is the trade-off.” In my opinion, the idea of trade-off can also be relevant in educating engineers, as it helps to critically evaluate the consequences of every action.

Climate and COVID-19

Dealing with questions like these is of course not just the responsibility of engineers, but of policy makers, politicians, and of society in general. Students in engineering should be trained to work together in interdisciplinary teams that try to oversee the many possible consequences and effects that new measures may have. In a way, this is what the key-note session was about: the observed effects on the climate by the global measures taken in order to combat COVID-19. And these effects are captivating and colossal (see image below).

Fall in greenhouse gas emissions in China; normal situation vs. COVID-19 lockdown

Teaching and societal relevance

This captivation is an important tool in teaching our engineers, according to prof. Van der Steenhoven. He experiences that emphasizing the social relevance of engineering fuels students’ energy and engagement. “Speed of learning increases because these are also social and political issues’’. Not only speed of learning, but also incorporating real world problems and contexts is important in our education. While lots of the curriculum can be very abstract, these examples help master the transfer of these theoretical concepts to the real world. So even though a time consuming, emotionally loaded, political discussion is waiting to happen, this might be for the best in the long run, both for the climate and the quality of our education.