The engineers of the future can make significant contributions to global societal challenges. ‘To do so it is important for engineering students to learn interdisciplinary skills, since these challenges are complex and are interconnected,’ says Peter Ruijten, researcher at TU/e. He started the project ‘Interdisciplinary presentations in Bachelor End Projects’ to help students communicate in interdisciplinary settings.
Futureproof engineers are not only able to find innovative solutions to big problems, but also continue to learn about new topics that are relevant to these problems. They have a can-do mentality, are system thinkers, and are able to link their engineering background to relevant societal challenges. And most importantly, they work in multidisciplinary teams together with engineers with diverse backgrounds.
Communication is key
‘One aspect crucial to the success of this scenario is the engineer’s ability to communicate with those who have a different background. Time and time again, projects get delayed or even fail because, for example, the software engineer did not fully understand the architect,’ explains Ruijten. In order to prevent such scenarios, students should be able to discuss and present their work in interdisciplinary settings. Therefore a project was designed with the objective to create an environment in which students can communicate about their (research) findings to peers with different backgrounds.
About the project
Students from three educational programmes participated in the project. These three educational programmes were chosen to represent a large variety of engineers, with Psychology and Technology students with a strong experimental research focus, Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences students with a strong design focus, and Mechanical Engineering students with a strong technological focus. The project was split into four phases: an exploration phase to gather information on how communication between students can be deployed in an interdisciplinary approach; a development phase in which a training for students and teachers was created; an intervention phase in which experience with the training was gained and feedback from students was collected; and an evaluation phase designed to disseminate the information gathered in the project and provide recommendations to other departments and/or universities.
The main three takeaways from the project are: (1) When students are to present their work in front of an interdisciplinary audience, the best way to prepare them for this is making them perform an audience analysis. (2) Assessment of presentations that students give in front of an interdisciplinary audience should focus on both form and content, and the audience analysis element should not be a separate element of the assessment forms (rubrics). (3) Analysing an interdisciplinary audience and connecting one’s own disciplinary work to that audience provides opportunities for fitting the disciplinary knowledge in a larger network, showing the value of interdisciplinary presentations for engineering students.