On our newest podcast, researcher Lysanne Post interviews Wilfried Admiraal, Pengyue Guo and Nadira Saab from the University of Leiden about the principles of student lab learning and the development of a large-scale multidisciplinary curriculum.

You can listen the podcast from our Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/iot-rapid-proto-labs/podcast-6-multidisciplinary-curriculum


Lysanne Post: Welcome to our podcast. This podcast is part of IoT Rapid-Proto Labs, which is an Erasmus+ funded program creating new IoT talents in Europe. In the program, students from different European universities have an opportunity to contribute to real-life business cases with IoT. I am Lysanne Post, a researcher from the Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Today, we are going to talk about the IoT project from a pedagogical perspective and discuss the multidisciplinary international curriculum. I have this conversation with the project team from the Leiden university graduate school of teaching.

Today with me is Wilfried Adimaal, the professor of teaching and teacher education.

Welcome, Wilfried.

Wilfried Admiraal: Thank you.

Lysanne Post: And Nadira Saab, the professor of e-Didactics. Welcome, Nadira.

Nadira Saab: Thank you, Lysanne.

Lysanne Post: And Pengyue Guo, Ph.D. from Educational Science Leiden University. Welcome.

Pengyue Guo: Hi and thank you.

Lysanne Post: In this multidisciplinary international IoT project, the Leiden University, with its pedagogical expertise, was responsible for the theoretical foundation upon which participants could build their curriculum.

Now Wilfried, could you tell us a little bit more which curriculum design framework is most appropriate for this specific project from pedagogical perspective?

Wilfried Admiraal: Okay. Thank you, Lysanne. The IoT projects made use of student labs in the pilot courses. In which, students work together in small groups imitating professional practice or technology designers.

The great importance for the professional practice is not only to maintain specific domain competencies, such as programming skills, but also more generic competencies such as collaboration and communication, which are also known as 21st-century skills.

Both, generic and domain-specific competencies, require different educational setups compared to the traditional teacher-centric way of learning. And in the IoT Rapid-Proto labs, the learning design is following the elements of the theory of effective teaching and learning.

The student learning labs required authentic and productive learning environments shaped by three different design points, which are: realistic complex task situations, multidisciplinary learning, and social interaction.

Lysanne Post: Thank you, Wilfried. And Nadira, could you explain to me the three design principles and elaborate on why these principles are important for student lab learning?

Nadira Saab: Yes, I will do that. Well, the first design principle is a realistic complex task situation. Realistic situations give scope for the participants to initiate exploration via divergent assignments, global guidelines, and global criteria.

The complexity requires interaction with other disciplines and between (?), which enhances the learning process. These realistic learning situations are hybrids, in which school-based learning and work-based experiences are closely connected. So, that is the first principle.

The second principle is multidisciplinary learning. And this principle is about real-life problems, and challenges to go with are not compartmentalized into clear cuts disciplines. As student labs aim to mimic real-life professional practice, multidisciplinarity is also part of a realistic learning situation.

In this way, the student labs prepare students for future work situations. Furthermore, multidisciplinarity offers an opportunity for students to get graded with multiple perspectives and tasks.

And then the third one, which is social interaction. Well, learners need to apply and build up multiple skills and expertise reinforced by mutual interaction cooperation. The most important forms of creativity are joint cooperative activities are complex networks of skilled individuals.

Social interaction is a crucial element of authentic productive learning environments, as it enables participants to operate as a learning community, in which various forms of expertise, experiences, and skills are assured.

So, those are the three principles.

Lysanne Post: Thank you very much for the effort of explaining the principles. So, in short, the goal was to provide students with authentic productive learning environments. And therefore, the design principles used for the curriculum consisted of creating realistic situations. Now, how does this design principle theory relate to the learning of both generic and specific skills in the IoT project? Pengyue, could you tell us that?

Pengyue Guo: Yes, thanks Lysanne. There are three aspects of importance. The first one is learning in project-based learning. So, project-based learning, which was adopted in the current project, has been shown to improve learning. And our team has conducted a review study showing that project-based learning is positively related to various student’s learning outcomes. Such as subject knowledge, learning motivation, and engagements.

Besides, because project-based learning emphasise the construction of knowledge, students’ innovation confidence has been improving during this process. This will eventually increase their competitiveness when entering the labor market.

And the second one is generic skills. Our review of empirical studies of student labs and additional literature indicate that five generic competencies are addressed in most student labs, which are collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity. To effectively enhance these competencies, student labs should be designed as authentic, productive learning environments.

And the third one is specific skills, because students work with authentic IoT problems, they will need to develop domain-specific skills such as programming and design. For example, we were working on a project based on a smart wheelchair, and students who major in software engineering collaborated with students who are majoring in industrial designing.

And these students discussed the initial ideas of the project, collected and analyzed the data, and answered each others’ questions from their own expertise during the prototyping. In this way, students will have a deeper understanding of their own disciplines and their specific skills will be improved.

Yeah, that’s about it, Lysanne.

Lysanne Post: Okay, thanks Pengyue. So, now that we know about the design principles for project-based learning, I wanna know, how these principles were used in the IoT Rapid-Proto Lab program?

The IoT courses were developed at the University of Trento in Italy, the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Finland, and the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands. Nadira, can you tell us how design principles were realized in the courses in Trento?

Nadira Saab: Yes. Well, the first design principle, realistic complex task situation, Trento collaborated with clients, which is farmers in a smart agriculture project. And in another private course, the client was one of Italy’s biggest oil companies who wanted to assess the air quality.

So, the students worked with a swarm of smart drones. And what comes to the multidisciplinary learning agenda in Trento, besides the multidisciplinarity produced by the authentic situations, Trento also collaborated with other disciplines.

For example, in the smart agriculture project students collaborated also with the department of agriculture engineering. And as a result. the students of industrial engineering also learned about agriculture engineering.

So, one could argue that disciplinaries were shared. And regarding the social interaction, of course, project-based learning actually requires social interaction, because students work in groups to develop the product. So, they have to interact to finish the product.

Lysanne Post: Okay, thanks. What do you think was the added value of using these design principles in Trento?

Nadira Saab: Well, for Trento the added value was the collaboration with real companies. It made the tasks really authentic and students themselves saw the added value of the work reflected in the use of results by the companies. Furthermore, the multidisciplinarity enhanced student learning and offered them different perspectives on the tasks.

Lysanne Post: Okay, great. Were there any drawbacks or challenges in using or instrumenting these design principles?

Nadira Saab: Well, the challenge for Trento was that this type of project’s, as the main problem, they lack collaboration between groups of different universities. Maybe because each university has different types of courses and different ways and times to do the examinations.

So, it’s difficult to plan a project that can be addressed at the same time for the students of different universities. Also, because not all students have the necessary competencies.

Usually, in collaborations, a partner asks what they need, and the other university must be ready and capable to deliver. So, the support of teachers and others is necessary. And also difficult due to the different universities and capacities of the universities.

Lysanne Post: Yes, that’s maybe something the other universities also experienced during the projects.

Nadira Saab: Yeah, so good collaboration and communication between the teachers are necessary.

Lysanne Post: Yes. Okay, thanks. And Pengyue, how was this, so the implementation of design principles done at Haaga-Helia?

Pengyue Guo: Yes, for the first, the realistic complex tasks situations like in Trento, at Haaga-Helia these complex tasks situations were created by involving real clients for example a dentist. And for the second one, the multidisciplinary learning, the authentic situations already created multidisciplinary learning.

The students have to learn about all the aspects of the task at hand, which goes beyond the scope of what they usually learn. This of course an asset, but the teachers of the courses are not necessarily experts on all the relevant disciplines, which can make it sometimes difficult to provide the appropriate support to students.

And there is also another way of multidisciplinary learning, which is feedback from the professors from Trento and Delft. For example, we did have this sort of design collaboration with Delft, which was also a sort of faculty-student collaboration, where the faculty member of Delft was involved with our students.

And for the third one, which is social interaction, because students work in small groups, they are, there is social interaction happening. Teachers also noticed a lot of interaction between the students of different groups and students also shared what they found.

Lysanne Post: Thank you, Pengyue. Could you also tell us what was the added value of using these design principles at Haaga-Helia?

Pengyue Guo: Yes. We have also been able to sort of adding new things to our curriculum and this has improved or helped us in developing new competencies in Haaga-Helia, from this project. And running these pilots sort of, with students, was so good in many ways. 

Lysanne Post: And were there any drawbacks or challenges for Haaga-Helia in this project?

Pengyue Guo: Well, as I mentioned before, the design principles create such an authentic situation that is not only beyond scope of what students usually learn, but it also exceeds the teachers’ expertise. That might be the biggest challenge we noticed so far.

Lysanne Post: Yeah, I can imagine. And Wilfried, what was it like at the University of Delft?

Wilfried Admiraal: Thank you. At Delft University I want to explain these three design principles based on actually one example, which was the wheelchair course. So, about the smart wheelchair. And there were quite some iterations of this course during the project.

So, if we have a look at the realistic complex task situation. In their course on the wheelchair, their students work on a smart wheelchair or applications or tools connected through the Internet to the wheelchair in order to support all kinds of additional functionalities.

And the second one, multidisciplinary learning, is addressed in a way that by making this smart wheelchair there were different disciplines involved and needed. So both, the more technical part, the technology part with programming and machine learning, but also the main part in Delft in design expertise.

And the third design principle, which is about social interaction, so, they worked on this smart wheelchair in groups of three students.

Lysanne Post: Thank you. And what do you think was the added value of using these design principles in this Delft course?

Wilfried Admiraal: I think that the real added value of this course for the students was that they worked on a realistic complex tasks. So, they really worked at the smart wheelchair to improve the functionalities of.. or supporting people in a wheelchair. So I think that was the main added value of this course.

Lysanne Post: Yeah, great. And were there any drawbacks or challenges to this course?

Wilfried Admiraal: Yeah, well, maybe the main drawback on this course was that the students are mainly into industrial design or in designing aspects of technology, and of course that can be done by designing a smart wheelchair, but to actually make it really work and to test it, you also need some programming skills and machine learning, and..

So, that would mean that in this course some collaboration with other kinds of studies or disciplines would be really necessary to make it even more realistic than it was already. So, that would be the main challenge, I think.

Lysanne Post: Yeah, so that’s something that was missing still at this point.

Wilfried Admiraal: Yeah.

Lysanne Post: Okay, thank you. It is good to hear that all the design principles were used in all of the projects in different ways. And I understand that there are still some challenges left. So, let’s now get into what we have learned from this project.

We talked about the curriculum design of multidisciplinary international IoT projects and the implementation of design principles in this project has provided us with many insights and inspiration for future curriculum design.

So, let’s sum up the three most important lessons learned.

Pengyue, what would you say is the important lesson you learned?

Pengyue Guo: Yes. I think the most important lesson we learned so far must be that realizing multidisciplinary and social interaction is to some extent realized through collaboration with universities of different disciplines, but developing such a large-scale multidisciplinary curriculum poses some serious challenges that are not easy.

Lysanne Post: Thanks. And Nadira, what’s the second lesson?

Nadira Saab: Well, the second important lesson is that to improve multidisciplinarity and social interaction, a collaboration between the teachers from the different universities before and during the project is needed and recommended.

 Lysanne Post: Okay. Wilfried, what is lesson number three?

Wilfried Admiraal: In addition to the other lessons, I would say that the third lesson would be that the collaboration with companies would be ideal to create even more realistic and complex situations and also multidisciplinary learning. And I also think that in our project there could have been a little bit more collaboration with companies.

So, that would be my third lesson.

Lysanne Post: Okay, thanks. And with those three lessons, we come to the end of this podcast. Thank you Wilfried, Nadira, and Pengyue for your time. And thanks to IoT Rapid-Proto Labs project.

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