3T PLAY 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.

 


TEST 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

 

Purpose

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

Approach

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

Teaching in times of covid-19

The teams in LEARN provided support for teachers at different levels in their efforts to setup and constantly adapt their distance and blended teaching. LEARN teams worked with teachers to face the sudden switch to distance teaching during the lockdown. Part of the team worked with EPFL teachers, while others focused on teachers in public primary schools.

The teams in LEARN provided support for teachers at different levels in their efforts to setup and constantly adapt their distance and blended teaching. LEARN teams worked with teachers to face the sudden switch to distance teaching during the lockdown. Part of the team worked with EPFL teachers, while others focused on teachers in public primary schools.

Our aim is to make these resources available to all teachers across institutions and levels. Some of these resources are translated in English and in French.

Support for teachers at EPFL

As a means to continously minimize the risk of transmission of covid-19, the Center for Digital Education (CEDE) and the Teaching Support Center (CAPE) have set up documentation, workhops and a helpdesk to support EPFL teachers in mixing online and on-campus teaching modes. Their ressources are regularly updated.

 

Support for teachers in primary schools

Since 2018, the LEARN Center has been working with the Department of Education, Youth and Culture (DFJC) of Canton Vaud on the “Digital Education” project, in collaboration with HEP Vaud and UNIL.  The phase of distance learning offered a particular challenge to teachers: to ensure continuity of learning for students and to maintain the link with families. The LEARN team wished to support them in the definition and implementation of this new task, with the tools at their disposal while remobilising the content already seen in the training that is part of the project.

We proposed, in collaboration with HEP Vaud, online sessions starting one week after the beginning of lockdown in 2020. These short and operational sessions helped to co-construct remote teaching. The ressources shared here are in French:

  1. Défis 1 – Démarrer l’enseignement à distance
  2. Défi 2 – Organiser ma première classe virtuelle
  3. Défi 3 – Animer ma classe virtuelle
  4. Défi 4 – Interroger ma classe à distance
  5. Défi 5 – Lecture d’histoires à distance
  6. Défi 6 – Parler du covid-19 avec les enfants
  7. Défi 7 – Aborder le covid-19 en classe

LEARN collaborated with Edit Change Management to create a trilogy of picture books, called Oscar & Zoe, to adress the digital challenges related to the pandemic (e.g. fake news, screen time management). Here is the news article with links towards the free download in English, French and German.

 

 

Contact(s):
Support team for EPFL teachers - flexible-teaching@epfl.ch
Ressources created for primary school teachers - gregory.liegeois@epfl.ch

Research on Education in Times of Covid-19

The two main questions our research teams dealt with concerning covid-19 and education were: How does distance teaching during lockdown affect students and teachers? How can we collect the evidence in order to inform decision-makers?

1. Research into remote teaching during the lockdown

As a reaction to the pandemic, our research teams worked to provide evidence about the impact of covid-19 related measures on education by studying teaching at EPFL and in public schools during the lockdown.

1.1. Study on EPFL teachers adapting their teaching

A study on teacher adaptability was ongoing at the moment when covid-19 hit tertiary education in February 2020. It was quickly re-designed in order to capture teachers’ adaptability in the situation of forced change. The analysis introduces perspectives of pedagogical innovation and touches upon social components of learning which, during the lockdown, have left an impact on the meaning of professional teaching role. The recording and slides of a presentation of this study in a lunch&LEARN session are linked on the left.

1.2. Study on teachers’ experiences with remote teaching in Canton Vaud

More than 5500 teachers from the Canton Vaud have participated in the study. The analysis of the factors associated with effective distance learning reveal that there are three types of factors that play a role: contextual factors (student, teacher and school equipment;  as well as the technical and socio-emotional support available), individual factors (teacher and student autonomy, competence and motivation) and pedagogical factors (practices and tools). The complete report is available here.

2. Collecting research evidence on the impact of covid-19 on education

The pandemic has had a major impact on education, not only because of the social isolation during the lockdown, but also because of the need to organise education differently after reopening of schools. New practices have emerged. Educational researchers have quickly accompanied the emergence of these new practices with research activities. Many have conducted studies to document and investigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on education. These studies can make a significant contribution to understanding what has happened, but also to preparing future scenarios, based on evidence.

But how to gather all these studies in order to make them accessible and useful for the entire research community? The Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK/CDIP), the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI/SBFI/SEFRI) and the EPFL Center for Learning Sciences (LEARN) teamed up to propose a platform for the sharing of research on Covid-19 impact on education in Switzerland.

2.1. Open repository

We initiated an open online repository of studies addressing Covid-19 impact on education in Switzerland and were able to gather more than 60 studies. Please feel free to use the repository for your research and share it with colleagues.

Link to access items on the platform: https://go.epfl.ch/repository_access
Link to add your study to the repository: https://go.epfl.ch/repository_fill

2.2. Online informal conference

In December 2020, more than 100 researchers participated in an informal conference to share the current knowledge about covid-19 in education. 17 studies were presented by colleagues from UniFR, FORS, EHL, UniZH, PHZG, FSO, SFIVET, UZH, UniGE, UniDistance and EPFL. Full programme

 

Studies on the impact of covid-19 on education

Workshops for Teachers and Doctoral Assistants

Our online and on campus workshops address the typical range of university teaching activities.

Informed by contemporary research on teaching engineering, our online and on campus workshops address the typical range of university teaching activities (teaching, presenting, labs and exercise sessions, assessment, using technology and distance learning technology).

Workshops are constantly updated with in-house examples and contemporary research on teaching and learning in STEM teaching. Since COVID-19 crises, workshop offers have been adapted in formats (drop-in session, short workshops, online, hybrid) and the themes now cover a range of hot issues (DIE, online assessment, student motivation, etc.)

Want to find out more?

Flipped Classroom

The term “flipped classroom” refers to a teaching approach in which students get a first exposure to course content before class, through readings or videos, then spend class time deepening their understanding of that content through learning activities with the teacher and/or teaching team (e.g. interactive quizzes, experiments, demonstrations, group problem solving assignments, etc.).

This model is usually opposed to a more “traditional” teaching approach in which students get the first exposure in class, mainly through lectures, and then deepen their understanding through homework after class, when the teacher is not present.

Flipped Classroom in Linear Algebra:

The Linear Algebra courses (MATH-111) are offered during the propedeutics year to all EPFL classes but Architecture, Mathematics and Physics. The final exam is common at 80% among all these courses, which are taken by a total of about 1’800 students.

In addition to the already existing courses, a flipped version of the course, given by Simone Deparis, was opened to volunteers from 2017-2018 to 2019-2020. A carefully designed study has been put in place over the successive editions of the course.

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Advice to Teachers and Sections

Partnerships between teaching advisors and faculty members are more likely to provide adequate and timely support to the teaching staff. The resources to advise teachers are blended, as they combine face-to-face meetings with relevant videos and documents.

Each year, the Teaching Support Center dubbed CAPE (Centre d’Appui à l’Enseignement in French)  works with hundreds of teachers and teaching teams on an individual basis to respond to their teaching and learning inquiries. 

CAPE works with teachers who explore the use of new technology in their practice or decide to switch up their instructional approach. CAPE also provides support to sections in assessing academic cycles, namely Bachelor and Master Programmes.

CAPE draws on counselling strategies to work with teachers who are building their confidence to teach and assess their pedagogical practices. 

A three-phase model to support new Tenure-Track Assistant Professors (PATT) establishes a partnership to work with young researchers to build their teaching dossier based on evidence of their teaching (Just-in-time teaching (JiTT) a pedagogical strategy that uses feedback between classroom activities and work that students do at home, in preparation for the classroom meeting). 

Support to sections for evaluating their programs includes discussing, formatting and creating surveys. Questions are adapted to the sections’ needs and concerns. 

CAPE sends the surveys to students and Alumni in order to have a snap-shot of how students assess their EPFL education. The surveys explore Alumni’s perception of the contribution of their EPFL education to their current job. CAPE takes into account their specific profiles and current professional tasks. The surveys also ask participants to self-assess the state of specific technical knowledge and professional skills. CAPE analyses the results and drafts reports which are then fed back to the sections to build evidence-based solutions.

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Learning Analytics (Uni Analytics)

We believe that machines can help humans teach and learn better. That is why we combine artificial intelligence and machine learning with insights from the learning sciences to better understand what people know and how they learn.

The CHILI lab (Computer-Human Interaction in Learning and Instruction) follows two approaches: developing new learning technologies that produce novel sources of data on how people teach and learn, and using machine learning and statistical methods to unlock the insights that are hidden in these sources of data.

CHILI develops novel technologies designed to support teaching and learning, with a focus on learning in team settings. Many of the technologies created provide the ability to capture novel sources of data on how individuals teach and learn together. In addition to traditional statistical methods, the use of Learning Analytics helps making sense of the data.

By using state-of-the-art methods from machine learning and artificial intelligence, CHILI uncovers insights about how people teach, how people learn, and how technologies are best able to support teaching and learning. These methods have helped us understand the learning process across a wide variety of educational settings and with a variety of different technologies, including with educational robotics, in online learning environments, and when using tangible user interfaces.

 

Want to find out more?

Computational Thinking Assessment

The goal of this initiative is to build a test to gauge computational thinking skills in a valid and reliable fashion. We are building, testing and validating a test that can be taken by anyone regardless of their previous knowledge or expertise in computer science.

This initiative builds a new assessment tool to measure computational thinking (CT) among science and engineering students.

Why is this needed?

First, the pervasiveness of digital tools and the use of computational methods is essential in contemporary sciences and engineering, which turns CT into a vital set of skills for current scientists and engineers. Thus, CT becomes a pillar of scientific and engineering education alongside other foundations traditionally considered as mathematics and physics.

Second, in accordance with the current relevance assigned to CT, EPFL has adopted CT as a subject for first-year students in an attempt to promote a transferable base in solving problems computationally. EPFL is offering an introductory course on CT and it intends to further implement courses for all degree programs, from Bachelor’s to Masters’ through to PhD. Therefore, we seek to advance our evidence-based understanding of how to best teach and learn CT such that teaching practice can be informed. Measuring learners’ CT in a reliable and valid fashion is necessary as it will help to identify effective methods.

Third, the tools built up to date to evaluate CT skills are, to the best of our knowledge, not sufficient for our intended use: they are scarce, have multiple shortcomings for evaluating CT skills in higher education, and are not validated for populations of engineering and science students.

A lunch&LEARN session was dedicated to this initiative, watch it below:

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Professional Skills

Professional (transversal) skills are career competences that are not specific to a particular job, task, discipline or are of knowledge. They are skills that can be used in variety of work settings, and as such are necessary for engineering graduates’ successful transition into future jobs.

Engineers and architects often need to deal with great social, technical and environmental complexities, and the demand for having broadly educated holistic engineers will only continue to grow in the future. Being able to manage and lead diverse teams, understand complex, interdisciplinary systems and solve open-ended problems across and beyond different subjects is expected from the next generation of graduates.

There are several projects under this initiative, joint in the attempt to examine how well professional, transversal and interdisciplinary skills are integrated into the curriculum at EPFL. The work done under the umbrella of examining professional skills integration is done through studying curricular material, collecting students’ and coaches’ opinions through surveys and interviews, analysing interdisciplinary MAKE projects, and mapping examples of good practices across the institution.

Mapping Transversal Skills

An initiative to map, examine and track teaching and learning of transversal skills at EPFL was developed as a result of a collaboration between the LEARN team, the Teaching Support Service (CAPE) and the Discovery Learning Program (DLP). Under this initiative we have so far looked at:

  1. Mapping transversal skills presented in the course documents (fiches de cours) across all sections
  2. Presenting examples of good practice in using different teaching methods in integrating transversal skills
  3. Examining the coverage of transversal skills in master courses
  4. Mapping transversal skills offered by units that are not covered through the regular curriculum

Two reports are available, one on curricular material and one on extra-curricular content. The first was presented on SEFI 2020 and is available at infoscience, and the second was developed as an internal document. In addition, several videos of teachers providing examples of their practice in teaching transversal skills were compiled. These are available here.

MAKE Research

This study looks into the effects of interdisciplinary MAKE projects on students’ motivation, learning strategies and project-management skills, with the aim of evaluating the impact of this initiative and providing useful feedback. The aim of the study is to evaluate the efficacy and quality of project-based learning experiences at the MAKE program at EPFL, with the aim of supporting further development of a more holistic curricula that would better support student engagement and learning (not only in terms of disciplinary learning but also transversal competencies).

As a result of this study, feedback and results would be provided to the teacher(s) and managing staff at the end of the experience. Results of this study are presented at SEFI 2021, and documented in a conference paper available below.

Evaluation of MA Programs

An evaluation of 5 MA programs has been done by CAPE and data were collaboratively analysed with LEARN, mainly to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Master courses given at EPFL. Based on quantitative and qualitative input, the evaluation indicates that students at the MA level receive a strong theoretical knowledge, while on the more practical level, students seem to expect more of transversal skills, such as management skills, IT tools and understanding ethical, legal and environmental impacts within engineering. The study has been presented at SEFI 2021, and the paper is available at infoscience (link below).

Want to find out more?

lunch&LEARN

The aim of Lunch&LEARN sessions is to gather an EPFL audience interested in novel and effective learning and teaching approaches, and to create a rich discussion around successful paradigms based on evidence. Do join us!

As an informal and open event for the EPFL community, Lunch&LEARN allows participants to have their meals, or enjoy their coffee break, while gaining new insights about interesting pedagogical approaches, opening possibilities for knowledge sharing and further collaborations.

Our guests encompass a range of innovative teachers and researchers from labs working on learning (CHILI, REACT, MOBOTS), service units (CEDE, CAPE), and educators with new visions for education at EPFL.

This event is open to EPFL teachers interested in innovative teaching and learning and, regardless of whether you are curious or doubtful, active participation in Lunch&LEARN discussions is very welcomed!

If you want to be informed about lunch&LEARN sessions, please subscribe to LEARN’s memento. Also be in touch with us at lunchLEARN@groupes.epfl.ch if you would like to suggest a topic for a future session or would want to moderate one yourself.

Want to get involved?

ASPIRE

Graasp for open evidence-based research in digital education.

Graasp is an open-access, GDPR-compliant cloud platform for digital education developed and hosted at EPFL in the framework of national and international initiatives.

It is exploited worldwide by universities and schools for blended active learning or digital knowledge sharing and has currently over 165’000 users.

A driving feature of the platform is that—provided consent—it is possible to collect data regarding teacher and student (learning analytics), which can be used not only for pedagogical awareness and reflection, but also for evidence-based research.

ASPIRE is empowering researchers, beyond the current platform stakeholders, to access data generated within Graasp.

The project is carried out collaboratively by EPFL, HEIA-FR, and HEP-BEJUNE, covering as such 7 cantons and two linguistic Swiss areas in order to facilitate a national-wide adoption.

In addition, the project combines research competencies in human computer interaction, software engineering, data science, and education.

Contact(s):
Denis Gillet - denis.gillet@epfl.ch
Website:
Want to find out more?

Jupyter Notebooks

Computational thinking in practice. We offer easy access to Jupyter Notebooks for students, and support instructors on the best designs and use in class.

Jupyter Notebooks are interactive documents that combine code, equations, visualizations and text. Versatile and flexible, they allow teachers to develop virtual demonstrations, interactive exercises or multimedia handouts very easily. 

While they can obviously be used to teach computer science and the associated programming abilities, their specific features make them worth considering for teaching computational problem solving and introducing computational thinking across disciplines.

With our centralized JupyterLab platform, which currently counts more than 4’100 users (among which more than 2’600 students), teachers and students can easily access, modify and run notebooks online with a simple web browser. 

Our pedagogical and technical support team has assisted more than 30 teaching teams in the development of educational notebooks for courses in varied science and engineering disciplines, from materials science to signal processing, including quantum physics or structural mechanics, to cite only a few. 

We investigate the impact of notebooks on students’ learning, identify the most promising pedagogical scenarii for notebooks and share best practices with teachers.

Want to try it out?