IDEE – a ground-breaking initiative for TU Delft engineering education
By Heather Montague
The Initiative on Innovation in Delft Engineering Education (IDEE) is a ground-breaking opportunity for scientific staff members to work on university-wide educational challenges. This new programme launched by the TU Delft Teaching Academy will provide grants for theme-based, multidisciplinary research projects aimed at stimulating innovation in engineering education for degree programmes at TU Delft.
We saw a need to create a space [...] where innovations in education will be researched in a scientific way, and we wanted to create a platform where all the knowledge developed will be findable and usable.Annoesjka Cabo - Academic Director Teaching Academy
Identifying educational challenges
When it comes to engineering education, TU Delft has a world-class reputation and consistently ranks well in the international arena. But according to Dr. Annoesjka Cabo, that doesn’t come without its challenges. As Director of Education of the Faculty of EEMCS and the Academic Director of the TU Delft Teaching Academy, she is deeply embedded in the world of education at TU Delft. “There are certain educational challenges that people struggle with university-wide,” she said. “We saw a need to create a space where people can actually work on these kinds of challenges, where innovations in education will be researched in a scientific way, and we wanted to create a platform where all the knowledge developed will be findable and usable.”
In keeping with the strategic framework of TU Delft, the idea of developing an evidence-based educational research initiative began to take shape. Backed by the Executive Board of TU Delft, the €4.2 million programme is the first initiative of its kind at the university. In order to identify specific challenges to tackle, Cabo said they conducted information gathering sessions with TU Delft’s Directors of Education, stakeholders from Teaching & Learning Services (TLS) and Education & Student Affairs, and other educational partners like 4TU.CEE and LDE. Based on this, they came up with a list of challenges and prioritised them. In the end there were three common challenges at the top of nearly everyone’s list, said Cabo. These three challenges form the basis of the themes that IDEE projects will explore.
The first theme that IDEE will address is Students taking responsibility for their own learning process. The question here is how to create conditions that enable students to take responsibility, conditions which might apply to the students themselves, to lecturers or to the curriculum. It's also about students developing responsibility and autonomy, key competencies that engineers need as they enter the professional world. In broader terms, Cabo said: “This is really thinking about what I want to become, how I want to grow, and the kind of person I want to be when I finish university.”
The second theme centres on Retention of knowledge and skills. The challenge here is finding ways to stimulate students’ ability to retain the knowledge and skills acquired during their studies so they can apply them throughout their studies and in their future jobs. But Cabo said it is also about retaining the students that TU Delft attracts, noting that there seems to be a knowledge gap between prior education and the first year, and between the first and second year that can lead to dropouts. “A lot of knowledge is building upon prior knowledge,” she said. “For instance, students not knowing what they did in a first-year maths course when later courses rely on it doesn’t work very well.”
Finally, the third theme focusses on Future engineering skills. With a rapidly changing world, the required engineering skills are also changing quickly. This theme is about anticipating the engineering skills needed in the future, integrating them in (fundamental) courses and staying updated on the state-of-the-art engineering skills needed in society.
Each faculty or programme has different needs so we need to be able to adapt things across the university.Annoesjka Cabo - Academic Director Teaching Academy
With a direction established, IDEE now aims to assemble multidisciplinary teams to work on the different educational themes and didactic-pedagogical challenges. These ‘theme teams’ will include a scientific staff member from TU Delft, who will act as the thematic team leader. Each of these teams will be supported by a postdoc, a PhD student, and a learning developer. Cabo said that ideally the teams will include people from different faculties to ensure an interdisciplinary approach. Initially the programme will start with three theme teams, but there are plans to scale up to five themes in the next couple of years.
One of the most unique and ground-breaking things about this programme, noted Cabo, is that the postdocs and PhD students, funded by the Executive Board’s grant, will come from an educational psychology background. “These are people from the outside who have knowledge on how to do such research, which is really interesting,” she said. Starting in September 2023, the first three teams will start, having five years to complete their work on designing, investigating, and implementing innovations in education. Ultimately, the scientific quality of the educational research done through IDEE will be assured by a soon to be appointed scientific director.
Shaping the future of education
The research teams will take an engineering design approach as they explore the different themes, which involves a cyclical process. It begins with identifying the challenges, and is then followed by a brainstorming phase to find possible solutions which are informed by literature or research that has already been done in the field. Then comes prototyping, testing, evaluating, and re-developing the innovations that will shape the future of TU Delft engineering education. “It will be a challenge to come up with something that can serve as a framework for implementation university wide, but that’s the goal,” said Cabo. “Each faculty or programme has different needs so we need to be able to adapt things across the university.”
Ultimately, IDEE aims to establish a centre of expertise for evidence-based innovation in engineering education for degree programmes at TU Delft. Cabo said that ideally, the teams will have weekly meetings in a kind of intervision way where they can discuss the kinds of things they see. And if a programme or faculty encounters a challenge, instead of trying to solve it themselves, they can come to this central place. “This can strengthen our way of educating, teaching and learning, and also guide the programme directors to adopt a certain way of designing a curriculum,” she said.
TU Delft researchers who are also passionate about improving education now have a unique opportunity through IDEE. “It’s much harder to get grants for research in education when you’re not a researcher in education,” said Cabo. “If you're already interested in or passionate about certain educational challenges, if you want to really improve the impact that you can have on the education of young people, here's the opportunity to work on this in a scientific way.” She noted that it’s also a recognised way in the sense that you can really have time to work on it, with the support of researchers, PhDs and a postdoc.
On her vision for IDEE’s impact, Cabo said: “I hope it will improve the education that we offer here, that we are improving the learning of the students. I imagine that this might change the way we educate, not just doing things the way we always did over the past century, but maybe there will be a more inclusive way of teaching. I also hope that this will bring more attention to the importance that we attribute to education as a university. The challenges will keep coming and we need to design a space where we can co-create the education for the future.”
For anyone interested in joining IDEE, the call for scientific team members is open until 7 April 2023.
If you're already interested in or passionate about certain educational challenges, if you want to really improve the impact that you can have on the education of young people, here's the opportunity to work on this in a scientific way.Annoesjka Cabo - Academic Director Teaching Academy