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Experiences with modularisation at TU/e

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

According to the TU/e 2030 vision, one of the main aims is to change the curriculum from a course-based (‘traditional’) engineering curriculum to a challenge-based one. To enable this shift, modularisation is crucial as it offers students opportunities to access and use knowledge modules that can be taken ‘at the right time’ when they work on their challenges. Moreover, in a modularised curriculum, students can design their own learning trajectories with respect to their individual needs, interests and aspirations. Many course leaders/teachers from different departments at TU/e have innovated their courses, also by changing their courses into modular forms.

Sharing experiences

In an online event, organised by 4TU.CEE on the 9th of December 2021, modularisation at Eindhoven University of Technology was discussed. TU/e colleagues shared their own experiences and insights gained from research projects regarding modular course design. This way they can learn from each other and develop insights into how to move further with modularisation. 4TU.CEE leader of TU/e, prof. Birgit Pepin welcomed over 29 participants.

The following topics were discussed:

Connectivity is key

Important insights were gained at this event and potential collaborative project proposals were suggested in terms of further developments. One of our most central findings, in order to enhance the study progress of students, is related to the importance of intra-modular (within module) and extra-modular (between module) connectivity. Intra-modular connectivity relates to the didactical coherence within the module/s, whilst extra-modular connectivity supports students to create meaningful study and learning paths with the relevant modules. Hence, it was claimed that connectivity is an essential aspect of modular course design.

Assessment of modular courses

Another insight relates to the assessment of modular courses. In order to allow for maximum flexibility for students to develop their own learning and study paths within a modularized system, the university assessment system has to be flexible (e.g., assessment at various (flexible) moments throughout the academic year), so that the modularized content can be aligned with a flexible assessment system. The development of ‘self-assessed’ online modules (e.g., for all pre-requisite knowledge) was proposed as one of the ways forward.  

Dependencies between modules

It was emphasized that modularisation does not simply mean ‘breaking down content into parts’; it includes providing links to and connections with other content, so that students can find their way through the curriculum and develop their own learning and study paths. In other words, the dependencies between the modules in terms of content need alignment. By using software tools these connections and also the analysis of assessment styles, programme outcomes and certain topic lines within the modules can be easily conducted.

Support for student and teachers

In order for modularisation to work effectively, students as well as teachers need support. Students for orchestrating and aligning the modules to become a coherent learning path, and teachers for setting up the modules in such a way that their role becomes that of a coach (not ‘instructor’) who supports students in their learning. Project outcomes and experiences of teachers involved in creating modules or converting courses into modular design show that instructors/course designers have to be supported. For example in terms of course-module learning outcomes alignment, categorizing the module, strategies for module development and design (re/thinking about the category, practice tasks, assessment, resources of the module) via guidelines or tools.  

Cultural change is needed

It was concluded that alongside course modularisation, a cultural change among teachers towards teamwork and co-design of courses, and among students towards taking responsibility for their own study and learning paths, would be important for modularization to work successfully in higher engineering education. This cultural change needs resources (e.g. teacher professional learning courses for modularized course co-design; student support for developing their own learning and study paths) in support of teachers and students.

Written by: Ayşe Kılıç, post-doc researcher at TU/e; Birgit Pepin, 4TU.CEE leader of TU/e