UHasselt staff implement rapid-impact innovations in lessons


Three projects that introduce innovations to teaching approaches at Hasselt University have been selected for pilot projects

Innovation and strategy

Three innovative education projects begin at Hasselt University this month, developing the institution’s approach to teaching in architecture, industrial engineering and law. The lessons learned in these projects are also intended to benefit other disciplines.

The projects were selected through a competition open to all members of staff. After submitting a dossier outlining their projects, each team pitched its idea to a jury made up of university insiders and members of its extended community.

The projects were judged on their innovative qualities, but also on how well they lined up with the university’s education strategy. Aspiring academics also had to show how their projects would become self-supporting beyond the two-year running time of a pilot, and how their ideas might benefit other departments in the university.

“The idea is to start with an innovative pilot project in one particular context, but afterwards to be able to spread the results to other disciplines,” explains Karin Coninx, Hasselt’s vice-rector for education.

Real-world problems

A broad definition of innovation was used, from improvements to the curriculum to more technical advances. But all proposals had to show that they could be applied and affect student learning within the two years.

“These are not research projects, looking towards more long-term application, but something that has a rapid impact on the education that is given in a particular discipline,” Coninx explains. Some 10 projects were submitted to the competition this year, with three winners selected to receive support.

The first of the new projects is Live Lab, a collaboration between the faculty of architecture and arts and the faculty of industrial engineering sciences. Both faculties aim to give students skills that will help them in their chosen professions, where possible by working on problems from the real world.

Step by step, the students are expected to evolve in terms of the way they can independently solve problems

- Vice-rector Karin Coninx

For architecture students this project-based learning usually involves design studies addressing regional architecture problems, while for engineering students it involves problem-solving projects with industrial partners.

Live Lab will be a platform for building projects in which students from both faculties can participate, fulfilling complementary roles. “This means that different stakeholders will be brought together and that the employability skill of working together in a multidisciplinary team will be targeted,” says Coninx.

The academics involved will also draw up a broader strategy for colleagues who might want to follow a similar path in other disciplines.

International network

The second competition winner also involves project-based learning, this time in the law department. At the beginning of their degree programmes, law students are introduced to simple legal tasks and given guidance in how to resolve them.

As time passes, they are given bigger and more complicated real-world problems to address, and left to work on their own. “Step by step, the students are expected to evolve in terms of the way they can independently solve problems,” says Coninx.

While this approach is already well-established at Hasselt, its law professors think they still have more to learn, so the aim is to build an international network of law faculties that have similar approaches. “The result would be the network, on the one hand,” says Coninx, “and on the other hand digging in greater depth into the concept of project-based education in law, exchanging good practices and so on.”

Debating digital

The third and final project again comes from the faculty of architecture and arts, this time focusing on new ways of teaching a traditional skill. “In architecture education, there is some controversy over whether or not students should still be taught manual sketching, or if you should focus more on digital competences,” Coninx explains.

Sketching is still part of the programme at Hasselt, but there is a feeling that the teaching needs to evolve. “We want students to be able to learn independently and not only be there in the classroom while the teacher draws something on the board.”

So the Schetsatlas project will use video to record and catalogue the process of architectural drawing. “The students will not only be able to see the final drawing, but step-by-step how it has been constructed.”

This innovates in terms of learning competences in sketching, but also how to open up education for digital platforms

- Karin Coninx

This will also mean that students can work at their own speed, on campus or from home. “This innovates in terms of learning competences in sketching, but also how to open up education for digital platforms.”

The project will be carried out in collaboration with AZilPix, a university spin-off that specialises in image capture and processing.

This is the second time that Hasselt has run a competition for innovative education projects. While it is too early to tell how successful the approach has been, Coninx thinks that simply having the competition has a beneficial effect on academics.

“Doing these projects challenges them to go for some innovative ideas,” she says. “They get additional financing to realise them, so we encourage them to keep on thinking about innovating our education system.”