Redeveloping the course Introduction to Designing in Multi-Actor Systems

The Systems Engineering, Policy Analysis and Management programme addresses issues that are technologically complex and also involve different stakeholders with different interests, so-called multi-actor systems. In this course, these kinds of issues are addressed from a systems design perspective. The course is a coherent stand- alone course, but also provides an introduction to the rest of the programme. Over 10 teachers are involved in the course (e.g. systems engineering, law, ethics, policy sciences, modelling). It is centred around an authentic problem which students address in a step by step manner, using techniques that are introduced and immediately applied to the case.

To provide a motivational,inspirational, interesting, and substantive kick-start to the MSc SEPAM programme for new students who are just joining this master programme (they are in the first week of the master programme).

  • intensive one week full-time course
  • based on a challenging authentic problem that can change from year to year; the problem is introduced at beginning of the week by the real problem owner and the work is evaluated at the end of the week by problem owner and teaching staff
  • working on problem is done by large teams (15-20 students) which are also divided into sub teams (4-5) working on subsystems
  • theory and application are intertwined in a workshop setup with instruction and exercises; exercises can be team, sub team, individual, and they can be short (15 minutes) or long (several hours) 

Suggestions for improvement:

  • We have structured stepwise approach, so it difficult for students to be creative and innovative.
  • Because we have a complex problems, in a week you can t really advise the problem owner a solution. The dilemma is we have an authentic problem but at the end of a week it does  not really lead usable solutions. Because the time is short and also the students are new in master programme. May be with a small problem they can reach usable results. On the other hand, if we do so, they wouldn’t  get  the idea about what the whole programme is.
  • 70 students took part and the problem was: “Provide advice to the Executive Board of TUDelft on the conceptual design of the TUDelft extension school”. The case is about open and online education, and what the TUDelft strategy could be.
  • A brief brainstorming exercise in the middle of week resulted in ideas for mobile apps that could be useful for students (see images).
  • At the end of the week there was a live Skype discussion of students with a professor at MIT on the future of education at MIT.
  • Some reactions: “the group assignments, pressure cooker and working on a real case are good parts of this course”, “The variety of activities: assignments, lectures and also less formal elements like quizzes and making creative posters”.
  • Remaining dilemmas: structured approach vs. creative solutions & complex authentic problem vs. usable results.


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