“Less content might result in more learning.” Recent didactic course graduates reflect.
Twice a year the programme “Teaching at ETH: Committed and skilled” helps Assistant Professors to implement evidence-based teaching ideas in their classroom teaching. We asked the most recent group to reflect on the most important thing they learned.
Newly appointed Assistant Professors are quickly faced with a range of new tasks they are expected to master. Often without significant introduction, they are expected to develop budgets, plan and teach courses, manage financial acquisitions and hire and train staff in various skills – all the while conducting research and writing publications. The pressure is high as they keep their eye on the prize, namely tenure.
“Teaching at ETH: Committed and skilled” gives Assistant Professors the opportunity to invest some rare time in developing their teaching skills, which for many is a new area of expertise. During the programme’s classroom phase they are introduced to key pedagogical concepts and encouraged to put these into practice in their own teaching environments. They then meet in small groups to discuss their teaching goals and challenges, where they have a chance to give and receive feedback on their ideas and teaching practice.
Over time, not only do their teaching skills develop; many of their previously held beliefs about teaching and learning also change. This was reflected in the latest group’s answers when we asked: “What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to the next course participants?”
Prof. Dr Simone Schürle-Finke responded with this gem:
“Less content might result in more learning. I feel it is one of the hardest aspects of teaching – and I’m still learning, since as passionate scientists we want to tell and teach the students everything. But instead we should shift focus to enable them and give them the tools to learn by themselves, to feel ownership of their knowledge, to critically think and be motivated for self-learning.”
Interested? The next “Teaching at ETH” programme starts in January 2020. Read more.
Case Study – Peer Review Mastering Digital Business Models
As part of a series of case studies, staff
at LET sat down to have a conversation with Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Johannes
Hübner and Dominik Bilgeri from the Department of Management, Technology, and
Economics (D-MTEC) to discuss their Mastering Digital Business Model (MDBM)
What is the project about?
In this Mastering Digital Business Model
(MDBM) course, Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Dominik Bilgeri, George Boateng and Johannes
Huebner teach Master’s level students a theory- and practice-based
understanding of how today’s information technologies enable new digital
business models and transform existing ones. The course contains a novel examination
mode, a video group project is introduced as a core element contributing to the
overall course grade. In addition, students are asked to participate in a
peer-to-peer review of the videos produced by other student groups, which is
independent of the grading and is geared towards giving students insights in
how other groups solved the challenge. The best-rated videos are then shared
with the entire class in the end of the semester.
As part of this newly created examination element, course participants (in teams of two to three students) explain one of the major lecture topics (theoretical lenses) in the first half of their video.Then they apply the same lens by analysing a company, aiming to better understand its underlying business model. Companies are pre-selected and allocated to students for fairness reasons. Every year, we choose a pool of interesting companies in the context of digital transformation, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, e-health, etc.
motivated you to initiate the project?
The core idea was to improve students’
learning success by using an examination format that not only requires learners
to reiterate theoretical contents, but also apply the theory in a practical
context. The students have different backgrounds, and do not necessarily have a
strong business focus, which means that many of the concepts taught in class
may be rather abstract. We used the video format and specific companies as case
studies, because we think this is a good way to trigger curiosity, show
concrete examples of modern companies in a compact form, and force students to
reflect deeply upon theoretical frameworks compared to other examination
did you do it?
Aside from the weekly input lectures, we
ask students to form groups in the beginning of the semester. We then provide a
list of theoretical core topics from which each group can choose one. In
addition, we randomly assign each group to a case company. The theoretical
topic then first needs to be explained in the first half of the video, and then
be applied to the case company in the second half. Here we thus used a prosumer
approach, where students become part of the course because they create a small
section of the content. The best videos are shared with the class, and can be
reused as additional learning materials for future cohorts. This set-up generally
resulted in high-quality videos, perhaps also since students knew their videos
will be used again.
Students also had to review the video
projects of five other groups. They had to clearly describe whether and how
their peers used certain perspectives (called “lenses” in the course) which played
a role in the video and in their feedback. In this way they analysed once more how
the newly learned concepts were visible in other companies – a positive side
effect being that they also honed their reflection and feedback skills.
you have the support you needed for the project? Is there additional support
you wish you had had to help you to achieve your goals?
We asked two students from previous cohorts
to join us as tutors, and support this year’s groups primarily with technical
questions about video-making (e.g. tools, quality considerations etc.). In
addition, we designed one of the lecture slots as a coaching session during
which we would further support student groups with their questions. In total,
this approach allowed us to provide the students with high-quality supervision
with reasonable effort.
describe some of the key outcomes of the project
To most students, the task of creating a
video was new. We received feedback that while the initial effort for learning
how to make a video was higher compared to other examination formats, it was also
fun and very helpful to really understand and apply the new concepts. They said
that they learned things more deeply and more sustainably because they had to
consider all details and aspects – compared to the practical exercises they are
familiar with in other courses. By carefully phrasing their arguments in giving
feedback on peer videos, students became more aware of their own thinking and
We observed that the questions asked by
students once they start creating videos were different and went deeper, i.e. their
reflections were based on many concrete examples of companies, and the concepts
were put into perspective. The same sub-concepts have a different meaning in
another context, and students now see the overarching principles better and can
argue more precisely about theoretical aspects. Without these concrete
examples, it would have been harder to concretely grasp the theoretical
did the project impact learners or the way in which you teach?
We were surprised by the high quality of the
best student videos. The teaching team is now really motivated to continue
innovating on our approaches in other courses. We saw clearly that when
students are very active we get better results, deeper learning and better
lessons learned do you want to share with your colleagues?
It can really pay off to try things and to
experiment. We think that nowadays the classic format of passive lectures and
final exams may not always be the best choice. We believe the improved outcomes
through students who were actively engaged by the video assignment justified
the investment in developing new approaches and tools.
When considering videos as an examination
format, you should define the entire course/project very clearly. When
describing what production options students have for videos, you should be very
precise. Offering too many options can be counterproductive. It is better to
present 3-4 crystal-clear examples and stick to them.
Also, we would recommend managing students’
expectations clearly in the beginning of the semester, and highlighting both
the benefits and challenges of this examination format. Of course, this becomes
easier after the first year, when you can draw from the experience of the first
cohort, and also provide examples of prior videos to illustrate what is
expected of the groups. Because the students are co-creators you get new and
relevant content which enriches the course and can serve to motivate both
students and teachers.
are the future plans for this work? How do you plan to sustain what you have
created through the project?
We plan to optimize some details of this
course, and to go even more in the direction of a flipped classroom to use this
teaching approach in other courses. We will create a library of the student
videos to provide it as additional learning materials in future editions of the
By MDBM Student Cristina Mercandetti (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Your opinion about this course and the peer
review & video production process – how has it influenced your learning
process? Cristina Mercandetti: I really enjoyed both the
course and the video production process. I think they complemented each other
very well and we were able to directly apply the theoretical knowledge learned
in the course to work on our project. It helped me to think more critically
about the course content, and really dive into some of the lenses and models
presented. I don’t think this would have been possible without the video
production, so it definitely improved my learning process.
you think this approach could be used in other courses?
Cristina Mercandetti: Yes, I think this approach could easily be used in other
classes. However, I think part of the fun in this class was that the video
production was something very new and refreshing (a side effect was that I
learned how to cut a short movie). I imagine that if several classes introduced
this it would lose some of its novelty and could be stressful, as it took a lot
Final remarks about the course Cristina Mercandetti: I really enjoyed the whole
class, and heard a lot of good things from other students too.
ETH will host this year’s Swiss Faculty Development Network’s (SFDN) annual conference on 22 February 2019. SFDN is the professional association of faculty developers in Switzerland. Its main objective is to “build up the teaching and learning capacity in higher education institutions in Switzerland.” LET, the ETH unit for Educational Development and Technology, has been a member for many years.
The SFDN annual conference is where people involved in higher education from all around the country meet, present examples of their practice and discuss their conclusions for student learning. The title of this year’s conference is “How research on learning contributes to university teaching practice” and is intended to stimulate discussion on how robust investigations are needed to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching practices.
Prof. Dr. Springman, ETH Rector will welcome participants and Prof. Dr. Manu Kapur, Chair of Learning Sciences and Higher Education at ETH Zurich will present the keynote address on the topic of: “From the Science of Learning to the Design of Learning ”.