Do not underestimate the student!
Roy Damgrave is a University Lecturer in the Industrial Design program. After finishing his Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design in Eindhoven, he got his Master’s degree in Industrial Design Engineering at the UT. Quite by accident he was drawn to the Virtual Reality Lab where he grew to become an expert in the field of Virtual Reality. Next year he will complete his PhD research on this subject. This year, he was module coordinator for Module 8, which he developed and taught. He is happy with this combination of teaching and researching.
Eleven Different Tools
There was a great deal of input regarding what people wanted this module to look like. This module (8) is the last module before the minor and the graduation semester. In this context, students were required to develop a vision as to what kind of a designer they wanted to become. In addition, they needed to exhibit good communication skills among one another. “Also,“ Roy adds, “we wanted to give the students a great deal of freedom and responsibility.” After some brainstorming and coffee table discussions, Roy and his team came up with a clever design for the module. By putting the theory into eleven different “tools,” (mini-lectures) and letting the students choose which tools they took, it became a module in which students could get acquainted with different areas of expertise. This way of working made communication an important condition and yet the students could still experience a great deal of freedom. The content of these “tools’ had to be made visible in the projects. Each student was required to attend lectures about six tools and together, the entire group was responsible for knowing all the tools. Two to four students from the same project group could attend one tool. “By deploying the tools as expertise, communication was established and the students were able to work together towards a concrete goal,” Roy explains.
“In contrast to what they were accustomed to, in this project, students had to show and persuade an investor that there would be a return on their investment,” Roy tells us. “The students received little information at the beginning and had to conduct research on everything about the project: who the client was, the manufacturers, etc.” During this module the teaching staff functioned as consultants. “When students came to us and asked if their work was good enough, we replied by asking them if they would be happy if a designer they hired would come to them with this work.” They were given a lot of freedom in their process. There was a start up moment and a final deadline. Students did, however, also know that they could expect to have to give a presentation at some point halfway through the process.
Our other modules are concerned with a final product. Here the focus was on approach. For example, do you know who your target group is? Or how to persuade an investor? We tested this by means of a group evaluation in the context of a project exam. Students received questions from examiners who played the roles of potential investors. The theory in the tools was tested on an individual basis in the form of essays where they had to describe, how, what, or why they used a particular tool in their project. “Even if the tool was not useable, the essay could still be good,” Roy says. “The students could be honest. We wanted to see their thinking process and the application of a new technique.”
Roy believes some students are more capable of dealing with the free time they have been given than others. “But, honestly, I was not disappointed! Do not underestimate the student! They are capable of quite a lot. Give them that freedom. The more freedom they have, the more they will do,” says Roy. “We never heard anything about it being vague. Any more freedom would probably have been too much. This was just right.” However, Roy does state that it depends on the nature of the study programme. “You do have to adapt your curriculum accordingly: you cannot do it this way if students just had very strict curriculums in previous modules. You have to build this up gradually."
Each lecturer created their own tool for this module. “As coordinator, I had complete faith in my colleagues and I only gave them minimal conditions. By doing this, you get different teaching methods in the module. That is fun for students as well as teachers,” explains Roy.
According to Roy, being flexible and able to change gears quickly is important. “There are some things you cannot foresee and during the module we made adjustments here and there. We didn’t try to find and note every variable before we began. We decided to remain flexible and to make any needed adjustments as we went along.”
The module ended with a competition, Dragons’ Den. After this enjoyable closing event, the module was immediately evaluated with all of the students present.