Part of the 4TU.Federation
4TU.
Centre for
Engineering Education

Project introduction and background information

One of the grand challenges our society is faced with today is its unsustainable energy system. We need a major shift in the way we fulfill our energy needs: an energy transition. This requires a systemic approach that involves many stakeholders and that builds on new types of knowledge, tools and skills. That implies a need for a shift in the role of the university towards facilitating and encouraging processes of co-creation with outside parties and educating (future) energy professionals who would have the competencies to act as change agents. At the Eindhoven Energy Institute (EEI) of the TU/e we are developing the Energy Transition Lab that would support this endeavor. In that context we are currently actively involved in a number of (international) educational activities for professionals who are involved in aspects of energy transition in various capacities. In this process we collaborate with various agencies but mostly with the KIC InnoEnergy, the Climate KIC and the International Energy Agency. Content wise we build on academic knowledge in the field of transition studies and business models (management literature), as such combining the broader societal systemic and company level perspectives. This knowledge base is continuously advanced and new insights emerge from a great number of research projects initiated by the System Innovations and Sustainable Transitions group (School of Innovation Sciences) and the Innovation, Technology Entrepreneurship and Marketing group (school of Industrial Engineering). The aim of our educational activities is to translate the available academic knowledge into practice and boost renewable energy projects of professionals in a way that they can factually contribute to making a change. We work with a range of transition approaches that support acquisition of competences that are indispensable for working on transitions to sustainability (i.e. scientifically supported methods; Appendix A). Simultaneously we make use of a set of interactive co-creation teaching methods that facilitate a much more efficient gaining of new skills (Appendix B). Lecturers function as coaches guiding the participants through a process of interactive learning and co-creation rather than academic teachers focused on provision of knowledge. This type of innovative educational activities was so far limited to professional trainings for experts already working in the field. As much as such education is key to supporting the process of energy system transformation, proper education started earlier on in the individual carrier has a much higher chance of resulting in factual change. Universities are not yet equipped with appropriate curricula and prepared staff to commit to this type of responsibility but they might need to soon start thinking about that as the urgency of solving grand societal challenges becomes truly pressing. 

Objective and expected outcomes

This pilot aims to fill in this gap. In particular, it aims at transfer of available academic knowledge and knowhow into practical contexts with which students are faced once they graduate from the universities and embark on a professional carrier We plan to do so in the form of a certificate program for excellent students, initiated and managed by the EEI, which we aim to extend into a full master honours track after the pilot1 . In the context of this program students would propose their own practical project or an idea that aims to solve one or more of the societal challenges related to the energy transition and consider its advancement by means of using various transition and management approaches. We plan to experiment with interactive learning and co-creation by allowing students to explore both technical (prototype building) and social aspects of their innovation (interdisciplinary learning): Expedition Energy Transition. We plan a series of 6-8 interactive co-creation sessions in the program which will form the core of our didactical experiment. 

Expected outcomes of the pilot

Evaluation of opportunities for wider implementation of the program:

  • institutionalized in master honours tracks of the TU/e;
  • (parts of) program institutionalized in other educational programs of the TU/e (e.g. certificate program, existing master honors programs);
  • program adapted for high school students (e.g. when visiting the TU/e);
  • teaching methods applicable to other domains (e.g. health, mobility);

If possible, continuation of honors projects as EEI student project, start-up company or otherwise ;

Presentation at 3TU.CEE activity (e.g. Innovation Day) and dissemination of learnings via 3TU.CEE website.

The aim of the Expedition Energy Transition was to transfer available academic knowledge and knowhow into practical contexts by using co-creation methodologies, applied on a social challenge related to energy transition. Members of student team FAST took part in the experiment and defined ‘a driving formic acid fueled bus at the end of 2016’ as their energy transition challenge. During the Expedition, co-creation was not just applied as educational method during the workshop but also more in general when developing the program together with practitioners, scientists, educational experts and students. In general, we consider the Expedition as a success. Members of team FAST created a roadmap, including milestones and responsibilities, carried out a very successful crowdfunding campaign, and were able to develop several business models for future adoption of the technology, strategies for the formation of a niche, and mapping the different barriers. Moreover, teachers and trainers indicate that the students were very well prepared and were able to systematically analyze complex problems.

Results and learnings

By experimenting with this new methodology we also learned some important lessons that we list here.

  • As teachers and coaches we experienced that co-creation and network learning not only help in preventing information to students too soon, but also give a strong feeling of co-ownership to the students, which positively affects their learning.
  • Co-creation of a program requires an intensive coordinator role. The coordinator should have a helicopter view on all aspects and is the link between students, teachers, coaches, and experts.
  • In co-creation, both the individual and collective contributions of the group are of equal importance. We used a combination of activating and interactive learning methods to accomplish this. In particular, the idea wall (writing individual contributions on post-its then group and discuss in the group), works very well in the group process and gives a voice to everyone. However, during the discussions coaches should monitor the students closely to prevent that the discussion is dominated by certain students.
  • By preparing the first steps of the network learning process individually before the workshops, the first brainstorm session can be faster and more effective, leaving room for more in depth discussions.
  • When working with different student constellations, clear rules about (mandatory) presence of all team members to (part of) the sessions should be communicated.
  • LEGO Serious Play is a powerful tool to visualize issues, make connections, and dynamically adapt or improve the solutions. It can be easily combined with other interactive education methods, such as the world café. By working with metaphors, students from different disciplines and with different knowledge levels can quickly collaborate on the same level. When aiming for integration and application of different theories, more extensive coaching and combination with additional teaching methods is required.
  • During the workshops, the possibility to develop and evaluate a concrete plan of action should be created. This would also involve the development of a method to capture the lessons learned during the workshops and the whole program, preferably in an iterative way. When working with different student constellations in the different workshops, a method to communicate the lessons to the other group members should be developed. Methods based on the SCRUM methodology could be applied here in an adapted manner. SCRUM is a framework to complete complex projects and to come to fast and better solutions (Schwaber & Sutherland, 2016).
  • An assessment plan should be developed that allows for objective testing of the learning outcomes (both content and process related). To be able to give feedback on and assess both the individual and group contributions, the plan should include both intermediate and final,
  • Expedition Energy Transition Evaluation Report and formative as well as summative assessments. Moreover, the plan should be able to differentiate between students from different backgrounds and knowledge levels (technical background vs. industrial engineering background).
  • To improve learning and keep a clear focus, a clear line within the workshops should be created and well communicated with students as well as teachers, coaches and experts. This also includes the formulation of clear goals, per workshops, as well as for the whole program. On the other hand, the program should provide enough flexibility to adapt on the way.
  • For evaluation purposes, reflective notes are very effective. However, to stimulate deep reflection of the students, the questions should be carefully posed and enough time should be scheduled to fill in the forms, preferably adjacent to the teaching activity.