Students as producers, not consumers – Full article

“ETH prepares its students to shape the future as members of society, who think independently and act responsibly.” (Statement in the teaching policy at ETH Zurich)

This statement in the teaching policy outlines a main goal of the educational activities at ETH Zurich. ETH Zurich prepares its students to carry out their tasks as critical members of their communities, making an important contribution to the sustainable development of science, the economy and society. That is completely in line with the Critical Thinking Initiative that provides ETH graduates with the ability to work on complex, interdisciplinary and system-oriented problems, in addition to methodological skills and disciplinary knowledge. It focuses on the promotion of institutional diversity, interdisciplinary exchange, critical and self-critical thinking and responsible behavior.

Students take an active role

Students learn the most when they are actively involved with the subject matter instead of just consuming. Students are not passive recipients of educational services. Approaches to actively involve students in classes are the flipped classroom or the project-based learning concepts. Through their participation in different learning activities, students actually “co‐produce” their education. At the same time, they also contribute directly to their own satisfaction, quality and value perceptions (Kotze & du Plessis, 2003).

Students as producers

Bloom’s taxonomy of understanding is a framework to categorize educational goals. There are six levels of learning goals starting with from remembering to creating. The higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy are often related with some kind of a product, which is nicely illustrated with verbs related with the different taxonomy levels like construct, create, design, write, experiment, sketch and other more. Learning can therefore often be seen as a product; of course including all interactions and processes leading to this end-product.

Bildergebnis für bloom's taxonomy revised


Products developed by students can be small – for example – when they get the task to write quizzes or define questions about a topic (Hubbard et al, 2017). Larger tasks engage students in projects that allow them to construct their own knowledge and develop authentic products while dealing with real-world issues. In order to challenge students on this level, it is helpful to frame their work with an authentic task. Authentic tasks require students to demonstrate proficiency by applying existing knowledge to solve a real-world problem. By requiring students to solve a real-world problem, an authentic task creates a bridge between the content learned in the classroom and why this knowledge is important in the world outside of it. And if you reflect, rarely in the world of work does an employee create something for no reason at all or complete a worksheet that someone else will never utilize (Melinda Kolk, Blog Creative Educator).

The product students develop can be either the tangible result of what they have learned, or another kind of product they can use for instructing and/or assessing other students. While developing the products, they have to carefully study the content in order to understand all aspects of it. To achieve this, they discuss and argue with each other, have to make things explicit, develop their own opinion, etc.; the kind of interactions that match the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Points to consider

The creation of a product provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their learning and foster their motivation. From the side of the lecturer this teaching approach needs careful preparation and detailed planning. Especially in larger projects the role of the lecturer changes from a teacher to a supervisor and should be taken into accountA concern of the lecturers could also be how the quality of the work is secured. In a study, it was shown that lecturer reservations pertain to students’ lack of mathematical maturity and concerns over the mathematical integrity of the content that students produce (Croft et al, 2013). Despite these aspects, student’s satisfaction will be higher and development of their interdisciplinary skills will be increased.


Further Reading

  • An interesting approach to this topic was implemented at the University of Twente (UT) on the curriculum level. They transformed their entire BSc program, which is now strongly focused on project-based learning on different levels. More about the Twente Education Model can be found here: