Mixing design, management and engineering students in challenge-based projects

Abstract

The aim of this work is to describe and discuss the benefits and limitations that have been detected along two iterations of a learning experience that has been carried out by three institutions located in Barcelona: Istituto Europeo di Design (IED), ESADE Business School and UPC-Telecom BCN. Design, management and ICT engineering students are mixed together in multidisciplinary teams to face a design challenge along a semester. The framework of these projects is the Challenge Based Innovation (CBI) program, a structure promoted by CERN in which students from different disciplines and countries are challenged to design solutions to social needs following the Design Thinking approach. The international and multidisciplinary teams perform several stays (four weeks in total) at IdeaSquare (http://ideasquare.web.cern.ch/), a creative environment built at the CERN Meyrin site, in Switzerland. They also devote a weekly working day in their home institutions along a semester. In that day they work in multidisciplinary teams with coaching from faculty of the three institutions. While at IdeaSquare, the students consult with scientists and knowledge transfer experts about their challenges and about the possible use of CERN technologies in the proposed solutions. The challenges are quite open and, according to the Design Thinking methodology, the students follow several divergence-convergence phases: they devote approximately one third of the time identifying relevant needs into the challenge scope and choosing one of them. Another third identifying possible solutions for the chosen need and converging to a single one through low-resolution prototyping and testing. Finally, the last third is spent exploring the business aspects and possible technological implementations of the solution and developing a functional prototype, able to provide a proof of concept of the idea. All students (6 per team) participate in all phases of the design process. The evident benefits of this multidisciplinary approach are the enrichment of the ideation process thanks to the coexistence of different points of view and the ability of going deeper in the different aspects of the implementation respect of the separate capabilities of each partner. Although the whole experience has several interesting aspects, the aim of this paper is to emphasize the aspects related with engineering education. A constructive confrontation between Design Thinking and Analytical Design approaches arises and several tradeoffs have to be set. Usually, the UPC engineering students start their regular projects from requirements defined by the faculty or by external stakeholders, and often with a-priori restrictions about the technology. In this experience, however, they participate in the conceiving phase but have less time to develop completely a complex final product and to learn about technology along this process. On the other hand, the ability of developing disruptive and high-impact solutions is higher with this approach, although engineering students tend to take into account technology restrictions even in the early phases of the process. The review of relevant literature on design approaches and on challenge-based learning, the considerations about the benefits, limitations and tradeoffs and the lessons learnt will be developed in the extended version of this paper.Peer Reviewe

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