3TPLAY Tangible objects for developing Transversal skills in Technical universities

3T PLAY’s mission is to develop the next generation of tangibles-based learning toolkit to teach technical students the transversal skills needed to bring sustainable and ethical products and processes to the market.



Engineers and scientists must have more than just excellent technical knowledge and skills to provide leadership and solutions for the challenges faced by society. While engineering courses develop the technical skills specific to each discipline, there is an accompanying set of transversal skills that employers and society require graduates to master in order to fully leverage their skills and knowledge. These competences include, but are not limited to, negotiation, conflict resolution, critical thinking, intra- and interpersonal communication skills, inclusion, sustainability and ethical reasoning.

The EPFL Vice-Presidency for Education has put strong emphasis on the need for teaching and learning transversal skills at scale across campus. This aim is supported by the College of Management whose main mission involves offering courses that enrich the management skills of future engineers. This is key to enabling EPFL students to access high level management positions such that they can leverage their skills and knowledge.

3T PLAY explores innovative pedagogical methods using tangible objects that engage technical university students in developing and improving their transversal skills. While tangibles are widely used to teach technical skills in engineering, we have found little evidence of their application for transversal skills development. 


„The use of tangibles allows us to make representations of our ideas. It is great to get away from the screen!“

– 3T PLAY workshop participant, 7 April 2022



3T PLAY’s purpose is leveraging tangible objects to focus students’ attention on the patterns and values underpinning transversal skills. The transversal skills targeted by 3T PLAY are the result of a two-fold perspective. First, what competencies engineering  graduates need for their future innovation and management roles such that they can address emerging environmental, social and economic challenges? Second, what skills are currently under-addressed in the higher education literature?

Tangibles can create opportunities to address ‘difficult’ transversal skills, allowing EPFL students to have concrete representations of concepts which might initially seem abstract. We define tangible objects as 3D objects manipulated by students, that create opportunities for learning through reflection, abstraction, collaboration and/or construction. Our approach to tangible objects is broad and includes playful learning with, among others, LEGO® bricks, play dough, GEOMAG®, KAPLA®, lollipop sticks and glue, masking tape and cardboard, etc.

From top to bottom and left to right: Use of GEOMAG for developing argument mapping. Using LEGO bricks to set up a classroom to promote students collaboration. Using play dough to create a model for a university lecture hall aimed at promoting student collaboration.

„I like tangibles (e.g. GEOMAG) for building arguments because you can easily move them around when you change your mind. With paper and pen, you would have to start all over…or erase everything.“


– 3T PLAY workshop participant, 7 April 2022


The 3T PLAY team will identify educational settings which allow the creation and testing of new pedagogical design and the roll-out of manipulatives in the context of transversal skills learning in EPFL courses. The pedagogical advisor will co-construct tangible-based interventions with teachers and researchers. Researchers will then document the cognitive, emotional, social and creative affordances of these different objects and materials, as well as evaluate the interventions’ impact across all the stakeholders involved in the initiative. Through the tangible-based interventions, students could develop, for example, critical thinking and feedback literacy, tangibles being either opportunities or constraints enabling the learning process. 

Who is behind 3T PLAY?

3T PLAY is a joint initiative of the Center for Learning Sciences (LEARN), the College of Management, the Teaching Support Center (CAPE) and the DLL Makerspace. The research and operational team is composed of senior researchers, one pedagogical advisor and a project and community manager. The project is kindly supported by the LEGO Foundation, in the context of exploring future skills through new, playful and creative learning approaches.

Siara Isaac – Researcher

Natascia Petringa – Pedagogical Advisor 

Yousef Jalali – Researcher 

Veronica Petrencu – Project & Community Manager