INTERDISCIPLINARITY IN CHALLENGE-BASED EDUCATION – UNIVERSITY OF TWENTE

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 dr.ir. K. Nizamis (k.nizamis@utwente.nl) and Coralie Johnson MSc (c.johnson@utwente.nl) 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 (t.a.groen@utwente.nl) 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.

Discussion
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?

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