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

Project introduction and background information

The four technical universities in the Netherlands (4TU) are transforming their programme and course designs geared towards modern, flexible educational ecosystems, educating future engineers and interdisciplinary education. It requires changes in the study programmes and combinations of Teaching and Learning Activities within courses. Lessons learned during the pandemic are also utilized for this.

This project starts with an overview of the experiences of the 4TU with the transition to online education during the first one and a half years of the pandemic and conclusions based on them.

Objective and expected outcomes

Advice for the further transformation of programme and course designs towards, flexible educational ecosystems, educating future engineers and interdisciplinary education. That starts with lessons learned from the transition to online education during the first 18 months of the pandemic.

Results and learnings

Results and learnings so far; based on the attached paper and related projects

  • A substantial number of large-scale lecturing and traditional teaching methods can well be done online with clear structures and guidance for students on how to prepare themselves.
  • Several online assignments with (new) pedagogic approaches might be usable after Covid-19 – such as group work and online design sessions.
  • New tools to support online learning can be continued. People who dare to experiment with these tools should be supported with time and expertise
  • The online teaching experiences during the pandemic show that the social connection among teachers and students is an essential element for blended and online higher education. Teachers sometimes experience online teaching as talking to a black box. They need more guidance and support to reach out to their students and keep them motivated in learning. Interaction can partly be done online, but on-campus activities are dearly needed.
  • Teachers can help students in their time management by providing a clear structure and schedule, considering students’ autonomy.
  • Many lab/engineering teaching methods do not have good online alternatives and (definitely) need to be done on-campus. Especially since despite the rapid development of online tooling, few alternatives are available for excursions, internships, challenges and other intensive types of education.
  • Online assessment could be used even more but may need a different approach; for example, open-book exams and similar types of assessment should be considered; although much assessment also needs to be on-campus. More in general, a discussion on summative assessment and its current emphasis might be worthwhile. A shift to more programmatic assessment, with less focus on accountability and more focus on continuous feedback loops in learning, may benefit the learning process.
  • Make Edu-badges/micro-credentials a regular part of the curriculum
  • Create Learning dash-boards for guided learning
  • Move from emergency remote learning to long term strategies with a focus on the quality of education. Evaluate and experiment with (blended) learning formats. 

More results will be added when available. Results focussing on education design are available in the Researchgate project: Education design for new educational challenges of universities

Recommendations

1 A research-focused agenda is proposed

This agenda should develop new insights, change and improve the four areas of Higher Education learning described below.

  • Teaching and learning on-offline and mixed
    New formats of online learning and on-campus learning, which create a more balanced Learning Ecosystem with online, hybrid learning, blended learning, and on/off-campus face to face learning, should be explored. 
  • Diversity of the population
    Adequate learning design looks into the diversity of the population in terms of learning profile (e.g. disabled, international, gender), presence or long-distance learning for overseas students. In addition, flexibilisation and personalisation of education using Edu badge-Micro-credentials offer new opportunities for new learning methods or participation in Edu Hubs (ERIC’s) for at home and far of students.
  • Well-being
    An important lesson from the impact on well-being on teachers and students during the pandemic emphasises the importance of informal contacts in learning (social network), trust, emotional stability, motivation, agency, and resilience are essential ingredients for well-being and learning.
  • Support structures
    Tooling support, learning spaces and personal assistance (mental/ financial/social) is an essential part of university education. Social, financial and other structures should be available such that teachers can deal with their primary task of teaching and coaching and are not preoccupied with life’s diversions. Equally, the administrative and logistic burden of online education should be investigated. More advanced tooling and support staff and TA’s assistance are needed as well.

2 Recommendation for future questionnaires

The research design was made during the 18 months of observations and did not focus on separating the general effects of the pandemic from the effects of the shift in education. The restrictions on life, worries about health and relatives, and forced online life caused unhappiness as indicated by Statistics Netherlands (CBS). Questions on well-being and appreciation of education might measure that effect combined with the effects caused by the shift in education. And those two effects might interact: for instance, the forced general online life added up to online education stress. On the other hand, students had little else to do than study. 

 Also, appreciation scores might have been influenced by the idea that “this made education possible in a no alternative situation”. In recent literature, appreciation questions on the pandemic teaching and learning activities education “in case there was no Covid restriction” are often not used. Those questions might be difficult to answer. In future research, general pandemic effects should be separated from education shift effects, to find advice on education in less pandemic restricted times.

Practical outcomes