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

Blog by Marta Gavioli, PhD student at TU Delft

Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg was the keynote speaker on the second day of the SEFI2020 Conference. He started his presentation with the statement: “every speech should try to convey just one idea” and his was:

“The added value of Augmented Reality (AR) for educational purposes lies in the difference between AR environments with reality, not in their resemblance.”

To support this idea, he presented several AR projects developed by the CHILI (Computer-Human Interaction Lab for learning and Instruction) of EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland), together with the lessons learnt from those projects. These examples were beautiful and really entertaining, so it would be a pity to go too much into details in this blog post and spoil the surprise and the WOW effect. For this reason, I would like to redirect you to the website of prof. Dillenbourg’s lab (, where you can find a collection of videos of every project, or to the recorded SEFI presentation in the conference app. In this blog post, I would like to focus only on the first example presented, because it initiated a series of very interesting reflections among the attendees.

A wrong paradigm

At the beginning of his presentation, prof. Dillenbourg explained how, in education, we often assume the following (wrong) implications regarding the learning gains stemming from an AR activity:

visual fidelity–> immersion –>engagement –>learning

These are not true for a variety of reasons. First of all, it is not true that a successful AR activity requires high visual fidelity. In this regard, the protagonists of the first presented AR project are a group of Swiss vocational students, who normally spend one week working in a company and one week in school. In these cases, there is often a mismatch of what students are allowed to do as apprentices and what they are taught in school. In the company, students’ tasks are often very basic, such as moving boxes in a warehouse. On the contrary, the school wants students to learn more abstract concepts to be prepared for their future job, for example the basic principles of logistics and how to manage a warehouse. Because this learning experience was not possible in the real world, Dillenbourg’s team developed a very sophisticated learning activity which implements a mix of projectors, sensors, small-scale models, paper, and augmented reality. In this case, AR allowed students to manipulate the environment, trying out different arrangement of the warehouse shelfs. Students were also able to see things that are normally invisible, such as the potential trajectories of forklifts. Moreover, students could experience variety, being able to play around with different factors while deciding on how to load the trucks. The activity was immersive even if it had low visual fidelity to the real environment. The winning characteristic was its high cognitive fidelity, so that students could perform real tasks in an augmented environment.

The relationship between engagement and learning is not linear

Screenshot from the keynote presentation


Even more interestingly, Dillenbourg also discussed some challenges his team faced during the activity development. In fact, during the first trial, the researchers noticed that no learning gains were measured even if students were very engaged. Surprisingly, the reason was that students were so engaged in the manipulation of the AR environment that they did not pay attention to the concepts they were supposed to learn. The researchers found out that the relationship between engagement and learning is not linear, and the only way to achieve learning was to disengage the students a bit and find a way to force them to reflect. They did so by adding a task where the teacher could guide them in the reflection and reification process.

The role of the teacher

Screenshot from the keynote presentation

An interesting reflection stemmed from one question from the audience. All the examples presented during the keynote speech showcased very advanced and sophisticated technological tools which made many people wonder if teachers will ever be able to learn how to develop and use them. However, prof. Dillenbourg pointed out how, in this case, the best teacher is not the most technologically fluent, but the one who can push student to reflect, building upon what students experienced during the AR activity. From this perspective, a debriefing stage after the activity is essential to help students construct knowledge.

A final remark

Prof. Dillenbourg clarified that we cannot say that AR is good for learning, in the same way we cannot say books are good. There are good books and bad books as there are good or bad AR activities. Like everything in education, how good an activity is depends on many variables, such as our goal and how we implement it.





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

Blog by Casper de Jong, educationalist at TechYourFuture/ Bridge the Gap at University of Twente

Prof. dr. Greet Langie was the first keynote speaker of this unusual Covid-19 overshadowed SEFI annual conference. She held a powerful speech on “why and how to exploit the huge diversity in possible career opportunities available to engineers”. The “why” question might not be completely obvious to people new to the subject. However, professor Langie gave a clear answer by stating that 33% of the young engineers changes jobs within their first year. And from these engineers, 60% quits because of the job content. This means that one out of five graduates encounters a mismatch between their job expectation and the actual tasks at a company. Making the right choice when it comes to starting a career that fits you as a new professional is hard. If we can contribute to the student’s awareness of who they are and what they would like to do, we might bring down these numbers.


Langie was quite straight forward on the subject of “how” we can let students exploit the huge diversity in possible career opportunities. To answer that question she posted the rather philosophical answer to let our engineering students “wake up so they can smell the roses”. This could be translated into: “Make sure your students see a clear and complete picture of all jobs in engineering”. In short we should give them insight in all the career opportunities, and show them all the different roles available in engineering.

Engineering roles

The developed PREFER framework could help with creating a clear and complete picture. In short, this framework is based on the strategy model by Treacy and Wiersema and describes three different roles for engineers. These role are: the Product Leadership Engineer, the Operational Excellence Engineer, and the Customer Intimacy Engineer. And the nice thing is, every student can fit in one, two or all of these roles at once. A more in-depth explanation of each of these roles can be found at the PREFER-website. During a short side quest, prof. Langie asked the audience to position themselves somewhere in the framework. Where do they stand as an engineering professional? Even for non-engineering professionals it was easy to understand the reason of this question. As prof. Langie explained, it were not the answers/results that counted, but it was the reflection of the audience that mattered. Where am I, what are my strengths and what are my weaknesses?


Screen shot of audience poll


This question led to the second part of keynote in which prof. Langie showed us how we could create awareness and empower our engineering students. The good news she presented was that students are open to a range of alternatives when it comes to future engineering roles. In fact, quite a lot of students make their choice for specific career options based on some single experiences. Unfortunately, the preferred role of the students in general does not fit the roles mostly required by companies. They need mostly Operational Excellence Engineers, while most students prefer to be a Product Leadership Engineer. Et voila, a mismatch is born. But there is no need to worry since there is a possible solution to this matter. This is to get students in an early stage of their education into a mindset of “Zero-based career planning” (Brunhaver et al. 2013). In short this means that they will recognise all engineering career options as valid ones.

Clear picture

For this mindset of “Zero-based career planning”, educational programmes should create a clear vision of the available roles and also create awareness of the students regarding their strengths and weaknesses. When a clear picture has been formed, the students know their roles, which allows them to strengthen specific skills that fit these role(s). This, for instance can be done during their master’s programme. Organising field trips, guest lectures and real-life assignments from companies could help students develop a better understanding of the type of engineer they want to become.

Prof. Langie showed that the PREFER-project offers a number of micro interventions including two validated tests. On the one hand the “PREFER EXPLORE” test which can measure the students motivation and shows them their preferred roles, and on the other hand the “PREFER MATCH” test which focuses on competencies and results in a role alignment for each student. More information about these tests and an intervention called the “Chinese Whispers with a Twist’’ can be found on the PREFER-website.

To conclude this blog: the keynote showed me that it is essential to provide accurate information about engineering roles and what is needed by companies in an early stage to potential engineering students when they orient themselves. It also became clear that both students and companies can benefit from students who are more aware of the type of engineer they would like to be, or as professor Langie puts it: “Students can see better when they know how to look.”


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

Blog by Xin Ming, PhD candidate University of Twente

Due to the worldwide Covid-19 outbreak, the SEFI2020 conference moved online. This is not a favourable situation for newcomers, especially for starting PhD students who are new to the academic profession as well as to the particular field of engineering education research (EER). Apart from broadening and deepening your knowledge at the conference, it is crucial for us to get into the field by meeting and socializing with other researchers. I was sceptical of online meetings, because the lack of engagement from face-to-face communication makes this social aspect of conference exceptionally hard. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised participating in the conference’s prologue—the doctoral symposium on the 20th September—which successfully brought novice PhD students and experienced researchers together in an interactive, relaxed, and well-organized online setting.

Room for discussion

The symposium was elaborately designed to overcome the limits of online meetings, helping us newcomers to benefit from the get-together as much as possible. During the full-day symposium, two extensive sessions were arranged with the same members, including peer students and seasoned researchers. These sessions offered adequate time and room to dive into the particular research of each student, refine our projects, address uncertainties or confusion, as well as develop more in-depth connections. In addition, several rounds of speed dates grouped all participants in pairs for short talks. In the random grouping, we got the chance to meet unexpected peers or experts, which provided precious opportunities to explain our own research, receive interesting ideas and suggestions, broaden perspectives, and create new contacts.

Some of the participants of the SEFI2020 doctoral symposium

Sense of community

As a relatively new PhD student, I feel greatly inspired by the helpful and supportive atmosphere of the EER community. The supportive culture manifested both when talking about research content and when sharing experiences about academic life. Content-wise, researchers and students generously shared their knowledge, experience, and fresh ideas. From seniors, we not only learned about valuable references, but also received advice regarding writing, publishing, and conducting research. Peers also gave constructive and useful input. More engaging was the sense of community beyond particular research. In the round of sharing the take-home message of each participant at the end of the symposium, I heard about “not being alone in the PhD journey” several times. Seniors also emphasized the importance of attending to our wellbeing besides the academic achievements. I think this kind of support means a lot for us students who are dedicated to quite lonesome work, especially in the current social context where disconnection happens much more often than integration. Moreover, the dedication of experts was extremely appreciable. Despite the inconvenience caused by time difference, many of them joined the session very early in the morning or late in the evening at their local time. This supportive stance towards juniors is truly motivating.

Openness and opportunity

The diversity and inclusiveness of the EER community has also impressed me. The internationalisation was nicely presented in the online meeting, which allowed students and researchers from different ends of the world to come together and share experiences. For a newcomer like me with backgrounds neither in engineering nor in education, I also came across seniors who had similar experience and was reassured to persist in my particular approach in the field of engineering education. Peers, as well, shared with me their feelings of transitioning between different contexts and audiences. I have come to see that different cultural and academic backgrounds can find a place to realise their ambitions. As an emerging research field, EER offers great openness and opportunities to novel research ideas and designs. And as a community, EER is welcoming with its friendliness and hospitality.

Along with my impression on the doctoral symposium, I hereby thank its organisers – Jonte Bernhard, Kristina Edström, Maartje van den Bogaard and Tinne De Laet. And I want to express my gratitude to my peers and senior researchers taking part today. Thank you for all the wonderful input and inspiration. Although the online meeting today was remarkably fruitful, I hope to meet you in person in the near future!


Blog by Marike Boertien (liaison-officer at UT of Novel-T), Leonie Bosch-Chapel (Centre of Expertise of T&L), Ineke ten Dam (4TU.CEE @UT) and Raymond Loohuis (senior lecturer Strategic Marketing & Servitisation)

The University of Twente (UT) has many years of experience with project education as leading didactical method in all bachelor programmes. We have recently been exploring the potential of challenge based learning (CBL) as a natural next step. Some projects in UT project education already have the characteristics of what we (the authors) view as CBL:

  1. students work in teams
  2. on a complex, open and authentic problem (the challenge) coming from a provider outside the university
  3. that requires a broad scope; the challenge must be such that students go beyond the boundaries of their own discipline(s) and also include the perspectives of different stakeholders in society in the process and solution and
  4. the external challenge provider is actively involved and in contact with the student groups during and at the end of the process (the provider can be a company, a non-profit organisation or a more abstract provider like ‘society’ or the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals – in case of an abstract provider an external expert or expert group is involved to represent the provider).


Logical next step
Challenge based learning seems to be a logical next step for the UT. As described in Shaping 2030, the new strategic plan of the UT, the university’s main mission is to contribute to the development of a digital, fair, and sustainable society. The UT is well-known for its ability to bridge societal and academic challenges and will continue to do so not only by responding to changes in society but also and increasingly by initiating these changes. Challenge based working is seen as an excellent way to realise this. One of the intermediate goals in Shaping 2030 is that already in 2023 30% of its education, research, innovation and support will be challenge based. In addition, the ECIU-university, funded by the EU, in which the UT is one of the leading partners, will be fully challenge based. New challenge based modules and courses will be developed and launched. Also, a new Innovation of Education Lab will be established to support the development and implementation of CBL education and other innovations in education.


Strategic theme

Although every university seems to use its own definition and defines its own set of characteristics, the CBL movement is booming and one can learn much from other lecturers and institutes. CBL is one of the strategic themes for the next four years of the 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education. The University of Eindhoven has started this blog. They describe the benefits of CBL and what students are expected to learn by the CBL experience, followed by a description of their CBL plans and what they are currently working on. In this post we focus on CBL at the University of Twente.

We have asked two persons already involved in CBL at the UT to give their views on the values and challenges of CBL. One of them is Raymond Loohuis, an early adopter at the UT. The other is Marike Boertien, liaison officer of Novel-T and CBL facilitator who looks at it from the perspective of the challenge providers. We will wrap up with an overview of issues that every Higher Education institute will (need to) address when considering using CBL as an important educational approach in their programmes.

Dr. Raymond Loohuis: lecturer and CBL pioneer

How did you learn about CBL? Why did you start with CBL in your courses?

My first encounter with something that I came to know later as challenge based learning was in 2017. In that year, we visited Linköping University in Sweden as one of our ECIU partners to learn about their CBL programme that they had run successfully for many years as a project course elective. This 8 EC programme, called inGenious, is geared to let student with different educational backgrounds work collaboratively to solve real life challenges offered by external stakeholders, so called challenge providers. Challenge providers can be private companies but also public organisations such as municipalities or health care institutions. Each challenge can be characterised as a wicked problem for which no solution is readily available. A key feature of inGenious, and typically challenge based, is that students are left free in finding solutions for their challenge. Yes, it is their challenge for which they receive support from educators and facilitators not only to produce a promising solution for the challenge, but also in their learning process. InGenious is all about students obtaining competencies that help them to successfully embark on difficult challenges and problems in their future careers. In doing so, students learn for instance creative thinking, presenting skills, effective communication with various stakeholders, prototyping etc. So, the outcome is equally important as the oftentimes iterative learning process itself. Regarding the outcome, students need to present and ‘sell’ their solution to the challenge provider for a large audience. It is their intellectual property written in a contract. However, the challenge provider has the first right to accept or reject the solution. In case of acceptance, students receive a financial reward (max. 6000,- Euro). In case of a reject, student teams can do what they want with the idea. Some teams will start their own venture to further develop their solution and get support from the University of Linköping in doing so.

And inGenious had inspired you so much that you decided to use CBL as well?

Yes indeed, we adopted the inGenious programme and started a pilot in 2018. We choose one of our High Tech Human Touch (HTHT) elective modules ‘New Technology and Business Development’ as it provides a good structure to create mixed teams of students with different backgrounds. We selected three teams of students who volunteered to work on challenges provided by external stakeholders who were interested enough to embark on this new learning framework. The other student teams in this module were just working on their group project making use of the template and tutorials provided. So, we had two different learning frameworks ongoing at the same time in one module. The inGenious pilot teams where trained on design thinking to explore, select and evaluate their solutions in close collaboration with stakeholders. In evaluating their learning experience, students indicated that they loved to be in the driver seat of their own learning process, collaborating with the challenge provider and calibrating their mutual expectations. In contrast to the students who followed the regular programme, the inGenious teams felt very much responsible for each other’s contribution and showed a high level of ownership for their potential solution: it was theirs and not something they did for a stakeholder or lecturer. I had rarely seen this level of engagement before.

With some improvements made, we repeated the pilot in the same module in 2019 and currently we are in the process of expanding inGenious to other HTHT modules supported by the ECIU-university team, NOVEL-T and our Education Centre CELT.

Are you happy with the way CBL is now applied in your module?

I certainly am. However, apart from the good experiences and evaluations, there are still challenges to overcome in the design and execution of inGenious (or perhaps in any CBL framework).

First, attracting challenges and making them suitable for challenge based learning requires warm relationships with external stakeholders which is needed to manage their expectations given the unpredictable nature of CBL. One never knows how useful the outcome will be for the challenge provider. The role of a facilitator (intermediate role between challenge providers, student teams and lecturer) is essential.

Second, match making between challenge provider and student teams is a critical step in inGenious and educators need to take an important role in this part. This is because not only the challenge needs to be defined and tailored to the timeframe. It also requires that learning activities and resources are assigned, while ensuring the commitment of the challenge provider during the learning process.

Third is the issue of assessment in CBL. In this, the learning process and designing a possible solution are equally important. When taken seriously, CBL is about the attainment of individual learning goals set (within limits) by students prior to the start and these goals are mostly focused on enterprise skills (in the case of my course on Technology and Business Development) and/or higher order skills. During the challenge, students require planned and on demand coaching and feedback to ensure that the learning goals can be met. This needs to be monitored and documented during the course or CBL unit for assessment purposes.  This mix of guidance and assessment of the process is very critical and a challenge for any educator involved who are dominantly used to summative assessments or intermediate feedback focused on the outcome.

What do you see as the value of CBL?

In my opinion, we should educate our students to make them capable of solving complex societal and industrial challenges in their future careers. By this assertion, I mean skillful people who are able to deploy their higher order skills to embrace complexity, don’t take anything for granted, can think and act independently, and mobilise multidisciplinary knowledge to critically assess and explore workable sustainable solutions for challenges in many areas.  Given its features, a CBL framework might be a promising vehicle to realise such qualities and perhaps even outperform other related educational strategies that are presently used in higher education. What makes CBL promising is that it really bridges the needs of society and that of students and opens ways for, what I term, instant valorisation and one with potential serious impact. Universities too can reap the benefits from this educational model and find ways to capitalise on this in the near future. CBL is already practiced successfully at the Tech Monterrey in Mexico that can be considered as a leading institution in this regard.

Ir. Marike Boertien: liaison-officer at Novel-T, facilitator for inGenious

Raymond emphasizes the importance of the challenge provider for CBL. Are the providers interested to perform this role; what is the value for them?

CBL offers plenty of opportunities, not only for students and lecturers but also for externals who act as challenge providers and partners. These challenge partners might be active in their business, in governmental bodies or not-for-profit organisations. When they are actively involved during the challenge, challenge based learning becomes challenge based Innovation and this indeed has often led to some form of innovation.

For innovation to be the result of challenge based education, it is essential that the challenge providers step up and become real challenge partners. We look for providers that feel the need, are curious about new insights and want to be inspired. Providers that search for the bigger picture, that are not just looking for a quick fix or a final report but do acknowledge the added value to experience the design thinking journey with the students, whatever the results. Our challenge providers have a growth mindset. They act as learners themselves: they want to learn collectively.

Challenge based innovation has the potential to have a lasting impact on the external partners. Working together on the challenge, support is created for the results, increasing the odds of implementation of the results. But it is not only the results that count. The active challenge partner learns too and should be able to apply the way of working in its daily business. Building solutions and new insights go hand in hand with learning new skills, creating double impact. And maybe in the future, the challenge partner will also receive official credentials for this type of learning.

So, you say that active participation of the provider leads to more value for everyone?

Definitely! When my colleague Wilbert Pontenagel introduced the predecessor of inGenious in 2016, I got enthusiastic about the concept. Especially the way transdisciplinary student teams are in control of the rights of their solution design (IPR) creates a new balance between challenge provider, students and lecturers. The students feel in control and act on it. They become owner of their process, both in learning and content wise. And in case the challenge partner does not want to use the results of the project, students might even build their own startup.

And when students collaborate closely with the challenge partner, they learn many soft skills. Which stakeholders are involved in the challenge and how? How do we interact with them? How do we maintain a network with them? How do we approach contacts professionally when we don’t know this stakeholder? These are valuable skills we want all graduates to possess. Being able to interact on a regular basis with their challenge partner opens the possibility for students to truly learn how things work, not only from a technical point of view but especially in the ‘real world’. Experience that might not always be so tangible but is very valuable.

What type of challenges are you looking for?

When considering challenge based innovation, special care must be spent on crafting the challenge. In our view the challenge should be formulated on a conceptual level. This enables a transdisciplinary approach, giving space to explore and reframe the challenge. It may even be a wicked problem. Why? Because for these kinds of challenges the challenge partner has just as many questions as the students, creating a level playing field.

How do you see your role as facilitator?

Maintaining such an intensive relationship between the students and the challenge partner puts a heavy burden on the university staff. Here I play a role as an independent facilitator. I interact between students, challenge partner and lecturer. There is a good reason for putting extra effort in: the facilitator guards the balance between the actors, thus enabling all participants to nurture their growth mindset and creating full impact. The impact we strive for in challenge based innovation!

The facilitator has also a crucial role in finding providers that are willing to cooperate in CBL and in challenge selection and definition.

Some of the challenges of CBL

In its vision for education in 2030, the UT has reserved an important role for CBL. CBL has appeared in visions and strategic plans of many other Higher Education institutes as well and many educators see the potential of CBL. However, experience with CBL is still limited and clear frameworks are hardly available yet. Also the UT is still investigating and debating what the exact role of CBL in the programmes will be. The new Innovation of Education Lab is set up to have a leading role in the debate and in supporting modules and courses that are experimenting with CBL. We list a couple of issues, based on the perspectives of Raymond and Marike:

  • First of all, what is CBL?

For Marike and Raymond the active involvement of the external stakeholder is crucial. It is the fourth characteristic of CBL that we have defined in the introduction, a characteristic that is often missing in other definitions. At the UT some projects in the bachelor and master programmes already have the four characteristics and could be considered CBL, leading the way for other teacher teams.

  • What is the place for CBL in the curriculum?

In the master and last year of the bachelor or also in earlier years? How much disciplinary basis is needed for CBL?

Can CBL be the main method in a whole curriculum? Raymond reports that students appreciate the freedom they get in way of working and solution and every student can define his own learning objectives. The other side of the same coin is that it is difficult to build a coherent curriculum since every group and every student learns other things. Will students have the required entry level for new modules and how can we guarantee that every student has the required end level for the degree? It is probably for this reason that almost all examples of CBL that we know of are elective modules or in last years of the programme where these issues are less problematic. CBL might mean that we have to make fundamental changes to curricula. What is the best mix of CBL and other teaching methods in a curriculum? Is 30% challenge based education (in Shaping 2030) a good percentage for our programmes?

  • What is the place of CBL in a module?

What is a good balance in time between the taught subjects, labwork and the challenge in modules? In inGenious students get taught subjects before and parallel to working on the challenge. Can the challenge be the umbrella for a whole unit? Is there a minimum size for challenges? What is the optimal balance and what are important factors for the decision?

  • What are good challenges?

Marike prefers challenges that are formulated at conceptual level, often wicked problems. What does that mean in practice? And are these types of challenges always the preferred choice or is it better to vary the type of challenges e.g. depending on how far students are in the programme?

Do you need a new challenge for every student group (as in inGenious) or can several or all groups in a module work on the same challenge? Probably easier for the educator but is it scalable and do-able for the challenge providers to interact with multiple teams?

  • Is CBL appropriate for every student and every student group?

In inGenious student groups volunteered. What if all students have to work on challenges? Will we still have the current positive outcomes?

In inGenious student groups are mixed; they come from different programmes and disciplinary backgrounds. Are mixed groups, from different disciplinary backgrounds, institutes and/or countries required? Does CBL still work well when students have the same disciplinary background? What groups sizes are best?

  • What about guidance and assessment?

What guidance do student groups and individual students need and who will provide that? As already mentioned by Raymond, how is the coaching role of teaching staff combined with assessment of the learning achievements? What are specific tasks for the educator, the challenge provider, the facilitator? Can student-assistants be trained for these tasks? What kind of assessment is needed?

  • How to best cooperate with the external challenge provider?

Raymond and Marike both mention that it is a challenge to find challenge providers who are also willing to partake in the learning process. We add the issue of ownership here. Especially when the challenge provider is a company, it has to be discussed and laid down in an agreement who the owner of the resulting work will be. In the inGenious project the students are the owner with the company having the first right to buy the idea or prototype.

  • And last but not least, what do the students really learn in CBL?

Ambitions and expectations are high and learning outcomes seem promising. But do we indeed achieve these? What are crucial factors that determine whether the intended learning objectives are reached? Solid research on the effects and outcomes of CBL is needed.

The coming years the UT, also in the context of 4TU.CEE, will keep on investing in experiments and projects to learn more about the design and the effects of CBL. It will be an interesting journey for programme managers, lecturers, education scientists and challenge providers alike. One conclusion we can already draw, CBL has indeed the potential to bridge societal and academic challenges and will help to put society into the centre of our education.

Release of new book “Navigating the Landscape of Engineering Education”

June 18th 2020 was a date, engraved in my mind since more than half a year. It was supposed to be the day of my farewell party of TU Delft, and I had planned to use that party to launch my new book “Navigating the Landscape of Higher Engineering Education”. Corona decided differently. It postponed my farewell party, but did not stop me in completing and printing the book.

Hand-over of the first hardcopy to Renate Klaassen, my loyal ally in 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education (private photo)

When all of a sudden colleagues surprised me with an invitation for an intimate farewell party on behalf of the Delft section of 4TU.Centre for Engineering Education, without compromising the 1.5 m social distance, I decided to take this opportunity to release the book, on June 18th, and here it is.

Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World

In 2016 I had published my book “Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World”. It portrayed the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, its impact on engineering education, and a personal vision on the changes that are needed for future-fit higher engineering education and an argumentation that each academic engineering programmes should be based upon three I-C-E cornerstones in order to be aligned with future demands and meet future expectations by society and the world of work: Innovation, Community and Employability.

About 1500 hardcopies and a multiple of that number of downloads found their way to programme coordinators, educational leaders, teaching staff, students all over the globe. The report stirred considerable debate across and beyond TU Delft and is being used by many universities worldwide, as an inspiration for educational leaders and teaching staff to rethink their courses and programmes. I had not expected the report would make me a thought leader in engineering education.

Widening gap

For me that book could not be the end, with the reaching of my legal retirement age in mind, and a head full of ideas and thoughts. My personal motivation to write a new book has therefore been to clear my head, and make my vision, experiences, thoughts and ideas available to others for use and inspiration.

As a Director of Education I have, more than my colleagues, felt responsible to be like an antenna, looking out for signals of change that might impact our educational programmes. In discussions with higher management, and in my day to day advisory work in and outside of university, I have noticed a scary widening gap between the visionaries and thought leaders on the one side, and the majority of academic staff including higher management on the other side. There is so much skepticism to upgrade programmes that have survived unaltered for decades. There is so much complacency with the status quo.

Release of Navigating the Landscape of Higher Engineering Education – Coping with decades of accelerating change ahead (private photo)


Navigating the landscape of higher engineering education

The new book aims to complement the vision in Engineering Education in a Rapidly Changing World with new insights and offers a forward-thinking perspective on higher engineering education. It discusses the greater responsibility students have for their own education and learning process, the importance of professional skills, and the integration of the digital transformation and responsible engineering in curricula. It looks at the essence of impactful education, the need to upskill staff, and the impact of the vastly altered population of learners, mainly Generation-Z students.

Bridging a gap

To bridge the gap between me as a thought leader and the academic teaching staff on the shop floor, I have made descriptions of frameworks, concrete examples and guiding principles for relevant subjects, such as the changing roles and skill sets in the engineering profession, the shift in focus from teaching to learning, learning as inquiry, diversity in the classroom, diversity in the educational portfolio, the learning, unlearning and relearning of staff competencies, the strengthening of university-industry collaboration, and about empowering leadership.

It discusses the greater responsibility students get for their own education and learning process, the need to integrate the digital transformation and responsible engineering in curricula. It looks at the essence of impactful education, the key aspects of challenge-based education and agile programmes, and the impact of the vastly altered population of learners, mainly Generation-Z students. Last but not least, for those who are really interested in long-term thinking with no box, the chapter about reframing engineering education will be of special interest.

A compass and 24 recommendations

I have written the concluding chapter as a compass for educational leaders. It has four compass points: Skillsets and mindsets for 21st century engineers; Pedagogical and technological innovations in education; Continuous/life time education: continuous upskilling and relearning; and Educational strategy and leadership. In these compass points I give 24 recommendations for the development of educational vision and strategy and their implementation in organisations and curricula.

Enjoy reading

The preface by Robert F. Mudde, Vice President of Education at TU Delft reads “The timing of the book, now that the world is in turmoil due to corona virus couldn’t be better. Changing times, that’s what we are facing. And we have to find answers to cope with this. In this book you will find food for thought and inspiration from one of the current thought leaders in engineering education.”

The book is available free of charge. Please find its link, and links to other documents and presentations about future engineering education that may be of interest, at my private website.


Due to my retirement I will stop writing blogs on the 4TU.CEE and TU Delft weblog page.

If you don’t want to miss any updates about my work on future-fit engineering education, please subscribe to my blog at the website of my private business Aldert Kamp Advies.


Blog by Birgit Pepin, former 4TU.CEE leader of TU/e; Michael Bots, manager CBL program TU/e; Zeger-Jan Kock, post-doc researcher TU/e

Eindhoven University of Technology aims to educate the engineers of the future. Engineers who have a deep understanding of their discipline, keep their knowledge and skills up to date, and are able to work on complex systems in multidisciplinary settings and teams (Deans Bachelor College and Graduate School, 2020). The university has formulated a vision for education in the year 2030, and in this vision, Challenge Based Learning (CBL) plays an important role. In a CBL based curriculum, modularisation and digitalisation are essential, as they enable students to access and develop knowledge in an agile way, at the time/moment they need it. It facilitates the diverse and personalised learning paths inherent in a curriculum that places CBL at its centre. Digitalisation has also gained huge importance due to the Corona restrictions, in which students need access to the TU/e education systems to continue their studies from home.

Central to challenge-based learning at TU/e is that students acquire knowledge by engaging in real-life interdisciplinary challenges often defined in collaboration with external partners (challenge owners). While working on prototype solutions that contribute to these challenges, students seek out and apply knowledge, individually or in groups. This approach is expected to result (amongst others) in a better integration of knowledge and skills than a conventional classroom approach. Presently, the university is taking steps to create a growing number of opportunities for student learning based on the principles of CBL.

In this contribution we briefly describe what we mean by CBL and how it relates to other forms of authentic and active learning. Subsequently, we provide examples of CBL experiments at TU/e, followed by research themes identified across the experiments. We end with an outlook on the near future of CBL at TU/e. (In another 4TU.CEE blog colleagues at the University of Twente will follow up on this.)

What is Challenge-Based Learning?

Malmqvist et al. (2015) have proposed the following definition of CBL in tertiary education. Challenge-based learning:

takes places through the identification, analysis and design of a solution to a sociotechnical problem. The learning experience is typically multidisciplinary, takes place in an international context and aims to find a collaboratively developed solution, which is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. (p. 4)

CBL is considered a student-centred active learning approach, related to but distinguishable from other student-centred forms of learning, such as problem-based learning. CBL is different from problem-based learning in that instead of presenting students with a problem to solve, CBL offers general concepts, or grand challenges, from which the students identify and determine the particular problem they will address. In other words, in CBL students are not only expected to solve a ’real’ problem, but they are moreover expected to identify the problem (amongst the ones connected to the ‘grand challenge’). In addition, CBL requires multidisciplinary groups, whereas in problem-based learning students from a single department might engage in the problem solving.

CBL challenges are often derived from big issues that critically need to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of human societies during the coming century. These issues have appeared in national research and innovation agendas (European Commission 2014; NAE 2008). For students, working on challenges can be meaningful, engaging and motivating. Students using CBL have the satisfaction that comes from debating both the issues to be tackled and the solution they develop. As participants determine where a problem lies, how a solution might be affected, and how technology can be leveraged to accomplish a workable result, they learn the value of different perspectives, critical thinking and reflection. The CBL experiences can be seen as a further step in enhancing student participation in conceiving and defining their own learning trajectories, as well as a step towards integrating sustainability in engineering education (Enelund, et al. 2013).

CBL changes the roles of both the teacher and the student. For students the emphasis is on becoming a more self-regulated learner. Due to the open-ended complex and scientific nature of the examined research question, the teacher’s role changes (from traditional teacher) to becoming a coach, co-experimenter and even a partner in learning. Student work is guided by challenge owners, tutors and coaches. With these parties involved, collaboration in the team of educators (and co-learners) becomes more important.

In its vision for education in 2030, TU/e provides key ideas and a clear direction regarding CBL, but not a rigid framework, as the university is still investigating and debating how to define CBL for its curriculum. A wide range of challenges are possible: in a regional, national, or international context (while still situated in a global perspective), student groups of different sizes and from a single or from multiple disciplines. In order to collectively learn how CBL can be successfully designed and what changes are required, a number of pilot projects are being planned and carried out at different levels of TU/e. The projects will be part of a dedicated CBL programme aimed at integrating outcomes from the projects and using the lessons learned for strategic decision making regarding the future role of CBL in TU/e. Of course, it has been realised that a CBL based curriculum does not only change the role of the student and that of the teacher, but also the learning environment, assessment procedures, to name but a few curriculum aspects. In that sense, TU/e is not just moving towards Challenge-based Learning, but towards Challenge-based Education (CBE). Below we describe some examples of the challenge-based curriculum opportunities that have recently been realised.


CBL Experiments at TU/e

There are now many different types CBL experiments running at TU/e. From these, we can distinguish CBL experiments at different levels:

    • Course-based (disciplinary, multidisciplinary) (i.e. at micro curriculum level): e.g. USE (User, society & Enterprise) learning lines; Innovation Space Bachelor End Project/s (ISBEP/s); particular courses
    • Across courses (i.e. at TU/e macro curriculum level):  e.g. E3 a TU wide pilot to develop a CBL based curriculum; integration of the USE lines, electives and basic engineering courses
    • Electives: e.g. multidisciplinary electives
    • Extra-curricular (extra the core curriculum): e.g. Honours Academy and student teams
    • Inter-university collaboration: e.g. Eurotech

At the same time there are a number of research themes permeating the experiments, and we provide an example of an experiment under each research theme:

    • Pedagogy of CBL: The focus of this project is on the optimal pedagogy of CBL, in general and for different subgroups of students. Important topics that will be addressed are:-the optimal balance between student self-regulation and teacher guidance;
      • optimal balance between student self-regulation and teacher guidance;
      • how subject area differences should be taken into account when designing CBL;
      • how knowledge acquisition and application can best be integrated in CBL; and,
      • how the complexity of challenges and students’ self-regulated learning can be systematically increased during a Bachelor programme.
    • Didactics of CBL approach in (applied) mathematics and physics: e.g. “Challenge Based Education in/for Mathematics and Physics education: Towards the development of suitable ISBEP projects”
      CBL has been explored in several educational experiments at the bachelor and master level at TU/e. One of these experiments is the Innovation Space Bachelor End Projects (ISBEP), an interdisciplinary final project offered to all bachelor students of TU/e. However, few mathematics and physics students have taken up ISBEPs and this gives reason for concern. Hence, in this project we investigate:

      • why ISBEPs have not been chosen by more mathematics and physics students (as their BEP) (exploratory study of status quo);
      • what the design characteristics of ISBEP projects are that are likely to be attractive for mathematics and science students (development of design criteria for ‘new’ ISBEPs);
      • in which ways such ‘new’ ISBEPs could be beneficial for students of mathematics and physics (implementation and evaluation of selected ISBEPs).


Outlook/conclusive remarks

The coming years we will keep on investing in experiments and projects that contribute to increasing our body of knowledge with regard to the design and the effects of CBL in and across departments. The CBL programme is aimed at reporting these evidence informed practices to a taskforce. The mission of the Task Force is to provide the Executive Board, before the end of 2024, with a well-founded advice on the TU-wide application of the Challenge-based Learning concept.

If you want to know more about the research projects mentioned above and other experiments within the programme at TU/e, please contact:

Birgit Pepin (professor of STEM education, TU/e):

Michael Bots (manager CBL program at TU/e):

Zeger-Jan Kock (post-doc researcher, TU/e):


Blog by Ana Valencia, postdoctoral educational design researcher for 4TU.CEE and TU/e innovation Space

It is Friday 9:00 am. You meet your final bachelor project team, composed of two Biomedical students, a Psychology and Technology student, and a Mechanical Engineering student. Together, you work to find a solution to a challenge you have deemed relevant: How to remove orthopedic casts in a friendly way for child patients.

TU/e innovation Space building

The challenge was brought forward by a local hospital (i.e., the challenge owner), which believes students can bring in a fresh perspective, and help find a feasible solution to this issue. You and your teammates work closely together with the challenge owner to find a relevant direction to the challenge, and to define a concrete problem definition. In this process, you are supported by TU/e innovation Space and its staff. TU/e innovation Space provides a ‘hub’ and resources where you can work in this interdisciplinary project (e.g., prototyping rooms, working areas, etc.). It also facilitates weekly coaching sessions with innovation Space Coaches on the interdisciplinary aspects of the projects, such as team communication, stakeholder management and integration of ideas. Furthermore, each team member is supported by a supervisor from your respective faculties, who guides and supports the development of the project from the different disciplinary perspectives.

Challenge Based Learning & the Innovation Space Bachelor End Project (ISBEP)

The above scenario illustrates Challenge Based Learning (CBL). CBL is an innovative educational concept with ever-growing relevance in engineering education. In CBL, students collaborate to develop solutions to open-ended challenges of societal relevance. CBL is considered a rich learning environment, where engineering students can develop their knowledge, broaden their (professional) skills by engaging in interdisciplinary team-work and in real-life multi-stakeholder situations, and by designing solutions to complex problems.

CBL is at the center of the vision in education of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) for 2030. TU/e is engaged in several educational experiments to pilot this educational concept and evaluate its value for students’ learning. One such experiment is the Innovation Space Bachelor End Project (ISBEP; described in the above scenario), which is a final project for students completing their bachelor, and available to students from all programmes at the university. ISBEP is an alternative to the (individual) traditional Bachelor End Project (BEP) carried out at the respective departments.  ISBEP is defined as inter-programme because, while students work in interdisciplinary challenge-based projects, students are assessed individually, and following the rules and regulations of their own departments.

So far, ISBEP has been successful in providing a valuable alternative educational experience to students. What we have observed is that students are highly motivated to take part in a project of these characteristics. They are triggered by the interdisciplinary aspect of it, their contribution to society, the opportunity to make a difference, and to work closely together with challenge owners.

The Challenge of Inter-programme CBL Assessment

Despite the positive reactions towards ISBEP, there are continued efforts and opportunities to enhance this educational concept and related practices.  One important focus of the continued improvement efforts by TU/e innovation Space is the assessment practices within ISBEP. Reports from practice have suggested some challenges in this area.

Currently, assessment in ISBEP consists of assessment for learning (or formative assessment) and assessment of learning (or summative assessment).

Assessment for learning takes place in different ways: Through the interaction with innovation space coaches during the weekly coaching sessions; through self-reflection questions on the achievement of learning goals (which students answer thought a leaning management system); through plenary progress meetings with all stakeholders involved on the progress and direction of the project; through feedback sessions with disciplinary supervisors, and through the interactions with challenge owners.

Assessment of learning, as previously mentioned, takes place individually at each of the departments. This form of assessment is led by the disciplinary supervisor (and depending on the department, sometimes by secondary examiners or examination committees).  Assessment is thus conducted following the learning outcomes for the bachelor college as guidelines, but adapted for each programme by the different departments, and based on the learning outcomes for the traditional BEP.  Hence, as the assessment follows the different departmental rules and regulations, students within the same ISBEP team may have different assessment criteria, milestones and deliverables.

The above poses different challenges for assessment. In terms of formative assessment, selected reported challenges include:

  • Achieving agreement on the learning goals of students, given the large amount of stakeholders, with potentially conflicting interests;
  • Clearly defining roles, expectations and responsibilities for different stakeholders; for example, in the differences between innovation Space coaches, supervisors, and challenge owners, and the type of feedback/input students can expect of them;
  • Keeping track of the agreements and communication by students with different stakeholders in relation to the projects, as the learning occurs with different environments (i.e., TU/e innovation Space, the different departments, and challenge owners’ grounds).

In terms of summative assessment, some reported challenges include:

  • Reaching more transparency on learning outcomes, assessment criteria and assessment procedures. Students join ISBEP with the expectation of different assessment procedures to those of regular BEPs.
  • In the same fashion, reaching a unified set of learning goals and assessment criteria across programmes, that is well aligned with CBL;
  • Formalizing the input of other stakeholders involved in the learning of students, as part of assessment of learning; and
  • Designing tools for assessment that will facilitate the integration of these different views into the assessment.

Overall, we have observed that a better alignment between learning goals, learning activities and assessment practices for ISBEP ought to be reached. The challenge here lies in engaging the different departments (i.e., programmes) in this discussion, and reaching agreements on how ISBEP should be implemented and assessed.

Towards a solution

The above challenge has been addressed by means of a research project[i], supported by 4TU.CEE (Center For Engineering Education), in collaboration with TU/e innovation Space. The project started in May 2019 and follows an educational design research approach (See Figure 2): An iterative approach of problem/context analysis, design/prototype, evaluation, analysis, redesign, and so on.

Figure 1. Iterations of systematic design cycles (Plomp, 2013) and phases in the research project


The project has been divided in three phases. Phase 1, which has just been concluded, has focused on the exploration of the context and analysis of the issues related to CBL assessment practices in the ISBEP programme.

The research questions guiding phase 1 were the following:

How can Inter-Program Challenge-Based Learning (CBL) at TU/e innovation Space (i.e., ISBEP) be characterised? And what aspects/characteristics of ISBEP influence assessment practices?

These questions have been researched using a qualitative research approach (exploratory study of ISBEP) over a period of five months. To this end, observations and interviews with the different stakeholders of ISBEP were conducted. The challenges listed above are partly based on this research activity. A more detailed report of this phase is currently under development, and the results of the study will feed into the redesign of the ISBEP programme.

Phase 2, focuses on the redesign of the (formative and summative) assessment practices of ISBEP. The following research question guide this phase:

What are the CBL associated design principles, in particular those related to assessment practices (formative and summative) that align well with CBL (i.e., learning goals and activities in ISBEP)?

To this end, co-creation sessions with educators, educational experts, students, and other university staff will be conducted. The goal of these sessions is, based in the learnings from Phase 1, to redesign the learning goals, learning activities, and (formative and summative) assessment practices of ISBEP. These sessions are scheduled to take place in March, April and May, 2020. The goal is to increase the alignment between these elements, as well as the university’s vision on CBL. A second goal of Phase 2 is to test improvements/interventions on formative assessment practices. Results for Phase 2 are expected in the second half of 2020.

Finally, the outcomes of Phase 2 will lead to the development of a detailed (new) assessment plan for ISBEP, to be evaluated and implemented in Phase 3.  The research questions guiding this last phase are:

How can (new) assessment practices be implemented, and evaluated? How can the insights gained from Phase 2 be used for the further development of assessment in the ISBEP program, also in terms of scaling up?

The end goal of Phase 3 is thus to submit the new assessment for revision by the Joint Program Committee; the university’s entity in charge of reviewing and approving new assessment plans. Furthermore, we aim at fully implementing the new (formative and summative) assessment practices in ISBEP. The results of Phase 3 will lead to the identification of new aspects to be improved, and lead to a new design iteration. Phase 3 will also lead to the identification of insights than can guide our efforts in scaling up ISBEP in the near future, and the design of new CBL modules/programs university-wide. The results for Phase 3 are expected in 2021.


Plomp, T. (2013). Educational Design Research: An Introduction. In T. Plomp & N. Nieveen (Eds.), Educational Design Research. Part A: An Introduction (pp. 1–206). Netherlands Institute for Curriculum Development (SLO).

Ana Valencia

[i] Members of the research team: Dr. ir. Ana Valencia (Postdoctoral Educational Design Researcher TU/e innovation Space, 4TU.CEE); Isabelle Reymen (Scientific Director TU/e innoSpace); Prof.dr.Birgit Pepin (4TU.CEE, Eindhoven School of Education); Miguel Bruns (TU/e innovation Space). For questions, please contact the author at


Innovating engineering education: lessons learnt from research on educational innovations

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Clever Robots for Crops

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



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

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

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

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

Plus Ultra 2

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Other questions are amongst many:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Academic setting

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

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

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

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