Examples of the Research & Development projects undertaken in recent years include the following.
Flipped classroom in Linear Algebra
Despite the research evidence supporting flipped and interactive classrooms, many teachers and schools are slow to adopt these teaching approaches, which are often regarded as being radically removed from local cultures and practices. The goals of this project are to explore the issues involved in implementing flipped class approaches in a large class, and to assess the impact of such an approach on students’ learning approaches and behaviours.
The ‘Smart Learning Space’ Programme
Every year, up to 60 students participating in the “How People Learn” master’s course (offered as part of the Social and Human Sciences programme) undertake research projects on an aspect of teaching and learning science or engineering. These projects are designed to provide useful information to EPFL, to teachers or to sections. This research programme envisages EPFL as a teaching and learning laboratory in which students learn to do social and human science research by carrying out ‘real’ research projects which feedback into improving the quality of teaching and learning, making EPFL a smart learning space.
Evaluating the Activating Student Knowledge (ASK) approach
Lecturing is the most common method when teaching adults. It appears many teachers are reluctant to abandon traditional lectures despite the literature on the value of active learning. This project evaluated a method called Activating Student Knowledge (ASK) which can be readily integrated into existing “traditional” lectures. ASK involves asking student to recall relevant prior knowledge at the outset of the lecture. The ASK method is very easy to use, and the initial tests suggests that it can have a significant, positive impact on student learning in lectures.
The research was presented at the International Consortium for Educational Development Conference 2014 (Stockholm) and the World Conference on Educational Sciences 2015 (Athens).
The ‘Global Issues’ Impact Evaluation
The ‘Global Issues’ course was introduced in 2013-14 as a compulsory course for all first year students in EPFL. The course is highly innovative, being taught by two-person teams drawing from natural sciences and engineering on one hand, and from social and human sciences on the other. The course also required students to engage in interdisciplinary group work.
On behalf of the course coordinators and teachers, we undertook an evaluation of the changes in students’ moral reasoning and attitudes towards interdisciplinary group work. This involved the administration and analysis of two internationally recognized psychometric tests (the Engineering and Science Issues Test and the Readiness for Interprofessional Learning Scale) to around 1,700 students. This is the one of the largest published studies of moral reasoning in engineering students undertaken worldwide in the last two decades.
Doctoral Assistant STEM Pedagogical Training
Doctoral Assistants play an important and growing role in undergraduate science and engineering education. Given that teaching is not one of their primary roles, they often have limited time to undertake pedagogical training and so, unless courses are short, few doctoral assistants will take them. In some universities what pedagogical training is made available is not designed with science and engineering subjects in mind. Even where such course content is valued by doctoral assistants they may struggle to apply it in their own discipline. Taken together, these two factors can lead to doctoral assistants reproducing teaching methods which they have experienced as students rather than using pedagogical methods which are research-informed and adapted to STEM subjects.
To address this problem we developed an innovative and evidence-informed one-day pedagogical training workshop for doctoral assistants in STEM disciplines called the Teaching Toolkit. Given its innovative nature and potential to solve an internationally recognised problem in university pedagogy, this research project involved the documentation and evaluation of this workshop.