Category Archives: 2017

Motivation through games – Full article

Playful elements such as competitions, quests and challenges have proved very useful in livening up teaching sequences and above all in motivating students. Here, in addition to their extrinsic motivation, many students also display increased intrinsic motivation. Both are demonstrably important to the success of learning (see [1]). The concept of gamification in teaching is not new, but using computers to realise it has created new possibilities. At ETH these are now being tried out in various courses.

The general definition of gamification is: “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”[2] Or, more simply put, “Gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.”[3] Here it should be differentiated from “serious gaming” and “game-based learning”, which denote actual computer games which are pedagogically oriented and have clearly formulated learning objectives (e.g. iCivics[4]). The focus of gamification, in contrast, is the changing of existing concepts and approaches and not the development of new computer games. However, all of these approaches have a clear aim: to increase student engagement [4].

In the NMC-Horizon Report 2014 gamification was named as the most important technological teaching and learning development for the next 2-3-year period. In the current Report, however, it is no longer referred to as a technological teaching and learning trend – for in the meantime it is no longer a trend, but has been integrated into the world of learning. One of the best-known tools of gamification is badges [5], virtual prizes which recognise achievements during a course. There are examples of significant correlations between learning success and the deployment of gamification, and of an inverse influence on dropout rates [6] and fail grades. However, in his definitive book [2] Kapp warns against simply viewing gamification as the deployment of competition and participant ranking lists: gamification requires didactic adjustments and an aligned overall teaching concept if it is to work.  Gameplay (game progression) and storytelling (the way the game’s history is told) in particular must be thought through. Other authors are also sceptical [7], but mostly criticise the extrinsic nature of the student motivation generated by gamification.

At ETH several projects on the theme of gamification have been implemented. They include:

Gamification increases many students’ engagement with their learning, and is an interesting option for ETH. However, games are not the be all and end all for teaching. Rather, targeted aspects of gamification should be identified and deployed. Ways to do this already exist. In the digital area, the Moodle learning platform is equipped for action in this respect (e.g. with LevelUp! plugins (, and the concept of badges and performance-based availability are known.

1.      Sailer, Michael (2016): Die Wirkung von Gamification auf Motivation und Leistung : Empirische Studien im Kontext manueller Arbeitsprozesse – Wiesbaden : Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.
2.      Kapp, K. M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.




6.      Hamari, J., Koivisto, J., and Sarsa, H. (2014). Does Gamification Work? – A Literature Review of Empirical Studies on gamification. In proceedings of the 47th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, USA.


Learning in teams – full article

by Dr. Benno Volk and Pascal Schmidt

Learning in the social context of a group has many advantages. Team learning combines the diverse thought patterns and approaches of individuals and interactions between them, and harnesses these for deeper learning on the part of all group members. Addressing topics with peers, aids not only knowledge acquisition, but also fosters communication, reflection and teamworking skills, thus facilitating successful approaches to complex tasks and issues (Bialik et al., 2015). Here learning in teams promotes the key competences of the 21st century (Fadel, Billig & Trilling, 2015). Today the ability to cooperate and communicate in a team is regarded globally as a central competence, in both the professional and academic worlds. The increasingly complex social, political, economic and ecological challenges of the modern world can mostly only be addressed and managed by functioning interdisciplinary teams. From the didactic perspective, group work, project work and teamwork also foster the learning success of all participants and are an important component in the future employability of students.

If learning in teams in the form of project work or group work is to deliver the desired results, forward-thinking didactic planning and detailed organisation by the instructor are necessary. The following three aspects are central. First, the composition of groups must be expedient and appropriate to the task, e.g. in terms of the level of knowledge and competences required, personal skills and knowledge of methodology, and interdisciplinarity.

Second, adequate supervision of group work is also important. Here the instructor must have knowledge of group dynamics and team phases. Third, clear documentation and the sharing of results among individual groups are decisive for the learning success and sustainable learning processes of all students on the course. The instructor must decide per case which of the above aspects is the most relevant and which will contribute the most to team learning.

Composition of groups

In forming groups, aspects such as the previous knowledge, individual skills and social competences of prospective group members may be relevant. A possible goal may be to explicitly mirror the diversity of course participants in every group, in terms of gender, origins and disciplines. The roles played by students in a team should be determined in advance by assigning clear tasks and responsibilities. The distribution of responsibilities in a team-based learning context itself fosters students’ personal, self-regulating learning processes (Stein, Colyer & Manning, 2016). There are various, partly contradictory approaches to deciding how to allocate team roles. The nine team roles defined by Meredith Belbin (2010) are relatively well known and explained in detail. To allocate student roles objectively, allocation should, according to Belbin, be based on a competence test or self-assessment via a questionnaire and subsequent feedback from independent observers. This type of team building is, however, seldom used in university teaching due to limited resources. In contrast, other authors such as Mitch McCrimmon (1995) believe, that excessively strict role allocation can make it harder for group members to spontaneously deal with conflict, be creativite and problem-solve. In the end, it is the job of the instructor to determine whether team roles are expedient and what they should be in the context of the learning objectives, the theme and the extent of group work.

High-Quality tasks and supervision

In task-setting, the high quality and relevance of the theme or issue are not the only significant aspects. Time and spatial resources, relevant information sources, and a range of other aids must also be ensured (Whitley et al., 2015). Learning in teams is usually linked with students’ deep immersion in the theme, and therefore individual working steps, as described in Tuckman’s stages of group development, should be elaborated in detail for everyone (Tuckman, 1965). Detailed written instructions and a description of basic parameters (sources, locations, times, results expected) help to catch misunderstandings early, thus avoiding the associated bad feeling and loss of efficiency.

The supervision of teamwork represents a further challenge for teaching staff, because the role of “guide on the side” implies an approach which is different to that of traditional learning settings (Dierolf, 2014; Hanover Research, 2015; The University of Florida, 2016). To avoid influencing individual groups unduly and to guarantee fairness and comparability of student performance, support for groups must be situation-specific and appropriate. Group work results, or the group work process, should not (as often happens) be evaluated by the person responsible for group supervision, as this can distort student performance.

Sharing of results and documentation

The third aspect central to team-based learning is ongoing compilation of results and discussion of these with all students in plenum. This requires advance planning, with the goal of adding value for all and generating a motivating and sustainable effect. This positive effect can be reinforced with a poster exhibition or presentations of group findings to an audience. A question-and-answer session to deepen participant knowledge and stimulate reflection is also recommended. Even if group work, teamwork or project work involves much effort on the part of instructors before a course actually happens, it saves time in the end because the responsibility of teaching no longer rests entirely on the input of the instructor.

In any case the exact planning and organisation of social learning scenarios is well worth it, to guarantee maximum learning success and positive results for all students.




Belbin, M. (2010). Management Teams. Why they succeed or fail. 3rd edition, New York: Routledge

Bialik, M.; Bogan, M.; Fadel, C. & Horvathova, M. (2015). Education for the 21st Century. Boston: Center for Curriculum Redesign

Dierolf, K. (2014). Solution-Focused Team Coaching. Bad Homburg: SolutionsAcademy

Fadel, C.; Billig, M. & Trilling, B. (2015). Four-Dimensional Education. The Competencies Learners Need to Succeed. Boston: Center for Curriculum Redesign

Hanover Research (2015). Best practices in instructional coaching. Arlington, VA: Hanover Research. Available online at

McCrimmon, M. (1995). Teams without roles: empowering teams for greater creativity. In: Journal of Management Development, Vol. 14, Issue: 6, pp.35-41. Available online at

Stein, R. E., Colyer, C. J. & Manning, J. (2016). Student Accountability in Team-based Learning Classes. In: Teaching Sociology, Vol. 44, Issue 1, pp.28–38. Available online at

The University of Florida, Lastinger Center for Learning, Learning Forward, & Public Impact. (2016). Coaching for impact. Six pillars to create coaching roles that achieve their potential to improve teaching and learning. Gainesville: University of Florida. Available online at

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. In: Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 63, Issue 6, pp. 384–399. Available online at

Whitley, H.P.; Bell, E.; Eng, M.; Fuentes, D.G.; Helms, K.L.; Maki, E.D. & Vyas D. (2015). Practical Team-Based Learning from Planning to Implementation. In: American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, Vol. 79, Issue 10, Article 149. Available online at


Improving student learning with individual feedback

Date and time: December 5th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Zentrum, HG D18.1

Improving student learning with individual feedback. Providing formative assessment at scale

Providing students with feedback has been shown to be one of the most effective ways teaching staff can support learning (Hattie, 2008). Ideally feedback is provided at a time when students can most make use of it. This necessitates that feedback is provided multiple times and early enough, so that students still have sufficient time to react to the feedback in a meaningful way. When student groups are small this task is very manageable, however as student numbers climb, additional challenges present themselves. This Refresh Teaching event will provide different examples of practical ways to organize and conduct activities that result in useful feedback to large groups of students.

Dr. Lukas Fässler will present how his group organises individual feedback in a first-year course unit at the Department of Computer Science using face-to-face appointments, assessment of the student’s learning and online tasks. Prof. Dr. Carlo Thilgen will share his experience with using feedback in large first-year chemistry classes resulting in improved student performance. Dr. Urs Brändle will use examples from the D-USYS to illustrate aspects of constructive feedback which can be covered well in peer feedback scenarios.

Presentations, Documents and Links:

Presentation: Hosts_Presentation_Feedback_Dec05

Article: Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick (2006)



Learning in teams

Date and time: June 28th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Zentrum, HG E 41

Learning in teams. Students work and learn together in new ways

Functioning project work and teamwork are significant success factors in the professional and business world. Social forms of learning such as group work and team projects are therefore a good preparation for the transition from university studies to professional life. When students work in teams they acquire and develop skills which will benefit them throughout their careers.  These skills include reflection, communication, leadership and collaboration. require empathy and curiosity.

Social interaction also forces students to deal with people who have other points of view and exposes them to other ways of approaching the same topics. Reflecting on and justifying their own perspectives and thought processes helps them to consolidate new knowledge, skills and attitudes (such as curiosity and empathy) in an improved and more sustainable manner.

While in some disciplines working in teams has become a normal part of teaching and learning, for others this remains a new and untried option. At this Refresh Teaching event, teaching staff have the opportunity to hear from presenters with significant experience in this didactic method and can discuss their own questions and successes with one another.

Read full article





Student Innovedum

Date and time: May 9th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Hönggerberg, HPT C 103

Student Innovedum. Student perspectives on teaching and learning

In 2016 12 students participated in the first Student Innovedum project. This was a 9-week process that enabled students to develop their own innovative ideas for teaching and learning at ETH. Using the Design Thinking process, they engaged with stakeholders, identified problems and developed concrete suggestions. At this event, we catch up with two of the students who participated and hear about their projects, ideas and any progress that has been made since then. They will share the ideas they developed and answer questions you may have.

In addition, the Design Thinking method that was used to generate the ideas will be briefly explained. As usual, we make time for interactive discussion and opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences.

If you would like to find out more prior to the Refresh Teaching event we recommend you visit the Student Innovedum website. There you can read more about Student Innovedum as well as Design Thinking.


Presentations, Documents and Links:

Towards interactive lecture material

Date and time: October 17th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Zentrum. HG E41

Towards interactive lecture material. Increasing student engagement and comprehension

At ETH a number of lecturers have begun to leave the traditional PDF behind and are making their lecture material more interactive. Our presenters will show a colourful palette of tried-and-tested activities that students can complete while reading, studying or preparing for class. Examples include exploring visual timelines, checking personal progress with self-assessments, navigating interactive videos, voting on important content, completing simulations and more. All activities are fully integrated in the online lecture material.

At this Refresh Teaching event we will hear teaching staff describe a palette of scenarios that employ Interactive Lecture Material.


  • Silvio Lorenzetti: Endeavours with eSkript – D-HEST
  • Alexander Caspar: A Voting Star – D-MATH
  • Manfred Einsiedler / Menny Akka / Anh Huy Truong: Interactive Simulations – D-MATH
  • Norman Sieroka: Annotations on the Web – D-GESS/D-PHYS
  • Christina Spengler: Progress and badges – D-HEST

Presentations, Documents and Links:

Read full article

Developing character while learning

Date and time: February 6th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Zentrum, HG, D 18.1

Developing character while learning. Global citizenship in the classroom

The further we push the frontiers of research, the more urgent it becomes to answer questions concerning the impact of our progress on humankind and our environment. This is why it is increasingly necessary to ensure that students are able to grapple with the ethical questions which will undoubtedly arise in their working life. These questions will require them to work with others and to examine their own assumptions as well as the role they play in answering these questions. In this Refresh Teaching event, we aim to provide examples of how the subject of ethics and personal values can be explicitly addressed in ETH courses.

Our speakers on the day are Prof. Dr. Thomas Bernauer, Dr. Claude Garcia and Dr. Sybille Zürcher. They will discuss their perspectives on the importance of student character development and share insights from their own experience.

Read the full article


Presentations, Documents and Links:




Motivation through games


Date and time: September 27th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Hönggerberg, HIL H40.4 (Plaza)

Motivation through games. Designing learning experiences with game elements

The use of games in teaching and learning is a developing field with huge potential. Games offer a range of interesting structures and methods that complement traditional teaching strategies. Games can infuse teaching with energy, spark innovative thinking and create an atmosphere of fun. At this Refresh Teaching event we will take a look at how teachers can increase student motivation with the use of gaming elements.

Read full article


  • Prof. Dr. Bob Sumner, Associate Director & Principal Research Scientist, Disney Research Zurich (due to personal reasons Prof. Bob Sumner won’t be able to join us for the event. Therefore Dr. Fabio Zünd Managing Director of the Game Technology Center will be presenting this part of the event).
  • Prof. Dr. Torbjörn Netland, Department of Management, Technology and Economics.

Presentations, Documents and Links:

Flipping large classes

Date and time: April 6th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Zentrum, HG F33.1

Flipping large classes. Facilitating active learning in the classroom

Flipped classes reposition learning materials into digital media in order to create time and space for active learning in the classroom. A traditional lecture is organized so that groups of students receive information in the classroom but engage actively with the content later, usually on their own.  A flipped classroom, on the other hand, focuses on student engagement with content, with the instructor and with peers, to enhance student learning in the classroom.  There are a growing number of lecturers at ETH, who have successfully implemented the flipped approach in large classes. John Lygeros, professor at D-ITET and Credit Suisse award winner for Best Teaching, and Jeff Miller, senior associate director from the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, and lecturer in the Masters of Educational Technology at the University of British Columbia, will share their experiences facilitating flipped learning in large classes.


Recommended resources regarding flipped and active learning at ETH


  • Flipped Classroom Teaching Lab
  • didactica courses:
    • „Wirkungsvolle Nutzung von Videos für den Unterricht“
    • „Videos ohne grossen Aufwand selber erstellen und gezielt in der Lehre anwenden“
    • „Using Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) to gain insights into student learning”
    • „Flipped Classroom”, 15th and 22nd December, half a day each
      1. und 22. Dez. 2017 (je ein Halbtag)

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Community & Projects

Funding for your teaching project

What can I learn from feedback data

Date and time: March 9th, 12:15 – 13:15

Location: ETH Hönggerberg, HPT C 103

What can I learn from feedback data? Enhancing teaching through evaluations

Teaching evaluations are a much-debated aspect of teaching and learning. This is exactly why this Refresh Teaching event pulls them into the limelight.

Reflection of personal teaching experience provides important insights for teachers (Kreber, 2002). Teaching evaluations are a source of quantitative and qualitative data about teaching and learning in our classrooms and represent an opportunity for teachers to resolve questions and hypotheses about their practice. Our speakers share their approaches to analyzing feedback data and the insights they gained from exploring open comments and closed ended questions. In particular, they address the following questions:

  • How can teaching evaluation data inspire reflective teaching practice?
  • How can open comments be analysed and interpreted?

List of references:
Bertiaume, D., Lanarès, J., Jacqmot, C., Winer, L., & Rochat, J.-M. (2011). L’évaluation des enseignements par les étudiants (EEE) Une stratégie de soutien au développement pédagogique des enseignants? Recherche et Formation, 67.
Kreber, C. (2002). Teaching Excellence, Teaching Expertise, and the Scholarship of Teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 27(1), 5–23.


Presentations, Documents and Links: