Blog Archives


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:



What do we learn from trial and error?

Curriculum innovation cycleInnovating curricula is about designing effective learning and teaching environments in continual cycles of educational practice and research. That’s what I have always learned in theory. But I have been curious why the professors and lecturers take very different approaches when they do research in their field of engineering or in their education. The structured process they follow when they aim to advance engineering knowledge and understanding through defining research questions, identifying hypotheses, collecting information and data for the purpose of making decisions, and testing those hypotheses, seems gone when they investigate how to enhance their teaching. The structured methodology is then often replaced by an unstructured trial-and-error process by producing prototype courses and improving them on the run.

Oh yes, I am very much aware that research in engineering and technology is very different from research in didactics. It is more a social sciences sort of thing. Still, that does not explain why hardly ever the innovation cycle in education, as shown in the picture above, is followed. Not very often evidence-based results are reported and disseminated either, while the slogan in research is “publish or perish”. And thus, to say it mildly, there is space for improvement in the learning from each others’ successes and failures in engineering education. If this sounds familiar to you, please continue reading.

The 4TU. Centre for Engineering Education

To help mitigating this issue, the three Executive Boards of the technical universities in the Netherlands, TU Delft, TU Eindhoven and University Twente, decided to start a collaboration on engineering education in 2014. And I was invited to help shaping this collaboration as one of the six board members (two per university). For all six the setting up of this new “business” was an unknown world, a rare opportunity and a new challenge: building a brand new organisational body that represents the three technical universities, starting from a blank sheet of paper with seed funding till 2018. It had to become a business for co-creators, our “customers” in the universities, who are already heavily loaded with work. Organisation, name, plan of action. Nothing existed yet. Where should we begin?

The framework we got from our Executive Boards contained two directives. The organisational body should:

  1. support and research innovations in engineering education that are taking place at the three universities in the Netherlands, and
  2. share the expertise on our educational innovations, thus supporting our international standing with respect to the high quality of engineering education.

3TU v1I will not bore you too much with the history, although it would have been very short. We decided to build on networking models to loosely connect teachers, educational researchers and support staff, and involve international colleagues in our research or innovations when appropriate. We made two categories of activities: distributed work packages that are jointly performed by the three universities together, and local work packages that are performed in one institution and whose results are disseminated upon completion. Last but not least we agreed upon its name: the 3TU.Centre for Engineering Education (3TU.CEE), which was renamed in 4TU.CEE in summer 2016 when the fourth and last technical university of the Netherlands joined, the Wageningen University & Research.

Mission of 4TU Centre for Engineering Education:
“To jointly inspire, stimulate, support and disseminate effective and high-quality engineering education through research-based innovations”

Our achievements and experiences in the first two years

4TU.CEE front coverWe focus our work on topics that are unique for Engineering Education, although this is never a black-and-white thinking. We have set up the network model. In the distributed work packages we researched and reported about a comparison of Bachelor curriculum reconstructions that had taken place simultaneously, but independently from each other, in all three technical universities in 2011-2012. We also developed an online Innovation Map to make innovations and research results searchable and available for anybody within and outside the centre who has an internet connection. And last but not least we explored the characteristics of teaching and assessing multi- and interdisciplinary courses and projects. Jointly we organised the highly successful CDIO European Regional Meeting 2016 in Delft, attracting an all-time high of more than 160 participants. On local level many different activities took place that were fit for purpose for each university. You can read about our achievements in the first two years in our Progress Report.

One local activity in Delft that got significant outreach and impact was about my research and vision development on the future engineering skills (publication “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World”; 2nd revised edition). It sparked the “Free Spirits” Think Tank at TU Delft, initiated by TU Delft CEE Coordinator Renate Klaassen and me, in which the need for “different” professional profiles of engineers in 2030 were explored, including new concepts for their training and teaching (publication available here). Its results influence the current updating of TU Delft’s Vision on Education and the discussions about TU Delft’s Strategic Framework 2018-2024.

In this start-up phase I learnt that it takes quite some time and energy to find sufficient enthusiast people who are willing to make the extra mile to learn from change, instead of operating in an open-loop trial-and-error process to enhance their education. And this is true even when we offer to compensate the efforts with funds and support by experts or PhD students in education for doing the action research, reporting and dissemination. It needs perseverance. The limiting factor is often not the euros but the hours:  time is the most scarce resource for many of our scientific staff.

But I am optimistic. Trends are positive. The importance of educational performance and continuous professionalisation in the annual appraisal cycle of the staff is increasing. The interest in new pedagogical methods that make use of new insights, such as the flipped classroom and blended learning, or emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality in the classroom, or the embedding of interdisciplinarity and integration of professional engineering skills in mono-disciplinary courses, is steadily growing.

The road ahead of us

In January 2017 the four Executive Boards gave us green light to continue our work for another five years. To avoid a scattering of activities and create as much impact as possible, we limit ourselves to themes and topics that we expect will be the ingredients in how engineering education will evolve. Virtual and augmented reality, future engineering skills, entrepreneurial behaviour, interdisciplinary education, mathematics & engineering integration and challenges that come with growing numbers of students and increasing diversity. The disk below and the Strategic Plan shows our full spectrum of themes and activities for 2017-2019.

Theme lay-out 2017-2020 minus logo

Themes and activities by the 4TU Centre for Engineering Education 2017-2019


Are you affiliated with one of our universities and are you looking for advice or support to innovate your course or programme, or do you want to experiment with new teaching or assessment methods. If they match with our chosen themes (please don’t think in black-and-white), feel free to contact the coordinator of your university. Collaborating with the 4TU.CEE gives you access to broad expert knowledge, educational research support, a broad network and an international platform to disseminate your results. With your work under the umbrella of the 4TU.CEE, you profile yourself and demonstrate actively that you take your continuous professional development in teaching serious. And I am confident this is going to count in the annual appraisal cycle more and more.

There is no need to say that we are not so much interested in unstructured open-ended prototyping of courses or programmes or expensive pilots that have only little value for colleagues in other faculties or universities.  Our most important objective and assignment is to share and learn. You, we and the world of higher engineering education around us will only learn, when you make your work evidence based and share your results by reporting in a paper, presentation, seminar, or upload it in our Innovation Map. We can help you with this.

In case you are not affiliated with one the four TU’s then, if you are interested to learn from or together with us, join forces, share knowledge, want to co-create, then please feel free to contact me or one of the coordinators. We are eagerly looking for ways to expand our international network in Europe, and support and strengthen engineering education whenever and wherever we can.

4TU.CEE banner

 This post has also been publised in the personal weblog about Engineering Education by Aldert Kamp.


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.