Project introduction and background information
In 2018, our university presented the “Strategy 2030” that outlines the vision of TU/e for the future. Regarding education, this strategy describes a shift from teaching towards self-directed learning by, for example, integrating challenge-based projects in the curriculum. In line with this vision, the departments of Applied Physics and Mechanical Engineering have independently developed open-ended group projects for second year bachelor students: “3BYX0 - DBL Signals and Systems” and “4GB00 - OGO Robot arm”. In both projects, the students learn about signals, systems and control theory by working hands-on on a real-world problem.
It is observed that students from both departments find it challenging to learn new theory and, in addition, to directly apply it within a single course without lectures. Since the background knowledge is different for students within these department, this problem could be overcome by working in multidisciplinary teams. For example:
- Control theory is completely new for Applied Physics students, while Mechanical Engineering students followed the course: 4DB00 – Dynamics and Control of Mechanical systems.
- The focus of Mechanical Engineering students has mainly been on the modelling of motion systems, while Applied Physics students have encountered a wider range of physical systems, such as optical and electromagnetic systems.
We therefore have an excellent opportunity to improve the education for bachelor students of both departments. For example, by designing an interdepartmental, challenge-based project that can only be completed when background knowledge from both departments is combined. To investigate whether such a project could achieve these goals, a pilot for an interdepartmental course is currently under development.
Objective and expected outcomes
The aim of the new challenge-based learning course is that students acquire their knowledge on signals, systems and control, by selecting the theory that they need and to directly apply it to a real-world challenge. In this process, supervisors will essentially act as coaches that support the students in finding the right knowledge, instead of directly providing it to them. Such an approach will result in a better understanding and integration of knowledge and skills among the students. Furthermore, just like during their future careers, students will experience working in interdisciplinary teams where the members have different backgrounds in skill and in knowledge. Moreover, self-directed learning will be stimulated by offering students several methods of collecting and selecting the information that they need.
During the pilot (2020-2021) we would like to answer the following questions:
- Does the multidisciplinary aspect of the course, indeed, improve what students learn? (research by ESOE)
- Do we see differences in the learning processes/approaches/results between Applied Physics and Mechanical Engineering students?
- Is the complexity of the real-world challenge in line with the background knowledge of the students from both departments?
- Are there problems with the technical setup and is it possible to significantly increase the number of setups after the pilot?
- How do students experience this challenge-based learning course?
- Are the responsible lecturers able to prepare the tutors that will guide the student groups? Furthermore, are these tutors able to coach the students, to provide constructive feedback and to guide the group process?
- Does the individual and the group component of the assessment scheme guarantee that the learning objectives are achieved by all students? What actions/changes are needed in order to scale up the course to make it accessible for all Applied Physics and Mechanical Engineering second year students?
The pilot is successful when
- Students from both AP and ME took part in the course and have worked together in multidisciplinary teams.
- Challenge based learning has taken place in one or more open-ended experiments which are scalable in the future.
- A good, scalable guidance system has been set up in which trained tutors guide the groups of students.
- Tutors are able to coach the students, provide them with constructive feedback and to guide the group processes.
- The complexity of the real-worlds challenges is in line with the background knowledge of the students from both departments.
- The individual and group components of the assessment scheme guarantee that the learning objectives are achieved by all students.
- There is a constructive alignment between learning objectives, assessment and learning activities.
- Students’ satisfaction is not considerably lower than the monodisciplinary courses offered by the two departments (ME: OGO – Robotarm and AP: Signals & Systems).