Students need to be equipped to communicate effectively outside of their discipline.
And there is a lot of research on the value of imparting lateral thinking and entrepreneurial mindsets to our students, as well as the need to deliver innovative ways of teaching and learning that meet their diversifying range of needs.
As an engineer and a criminologist, we thought we thought the positioning of our respective disciplines were situated well enough to design innovative inter-faculty capstone dissertation modules that would teach students the collaborative cross-sector skills they will need to solve the real-world problems they will encounter in their graduate careers.
Both Engineering and Social Science students are given 3-minute pitches of projects related to developing and implementing an innovative engineering product or system. Examples include – but are not limited to – accessible cycles, solar power refrigeration, a circular economy for campus plastic waste, or urban wind energy.
Students then join teams and use the skills their respective discipline provides to solve the problem at hand. The engineers practice industry-standard system development skills, and social scientist students provide consultation, scoping out the related literature, research questions, and ethical considerations and identifying concerns relating to gender, race, class, disability, and age.
Notably, both sets of students learn how to communicate with each other throughout the project despite differences in technical language and methodology. It’s a lesson in how to get everyone on the same page when they are reading from different textbooks.
Our respective faculties own our modules with our learning outcomes and assessments. Still, the projects are fully collaborative and industry standard, which sets them up with knowledge, personal development, and skills needed in professional life, addressing inequalities in graduate employment. The students learn through lectures, group supervision, peer-led meetings, careers-led sessions, off-site opportunities, and collaboration with global industry partners. The learning outcomes span the components we believe are optimum for learning in 2022: inclusivity, research-led learning, active learning, authentic assessments, confidence, digital fluency, global citizenship and sustainability.
One of the most successful projects even aligned with our institutional sustainability agenda. The Campus Circular Economy now recycles the university’s plastic waste into new products for sale in the university shops. Our students took a real-world problem, imagined an entirely new way to frame the issue but utilising their different skill sets and devised the strategy and plan to solve it.
This is without mentioning the positive impact completing these modules can have on students’ sense of belonging, which recent research shows increases when they become partners in developing and improving their institution and when they become established as part of a learning community.
It is also vital we provide this in light of the years of covid restrictions, which have severely limited any networking opportunities. In the context of the cost of living crisis, many students lack the disposable income to socialise. Providing students with the incentives to develop their networking and be exposed to new ways of thinking from peers they were unlikely to meet otherwise is not just pedagogically sound but a commitment to the broader student experience, community and belonging.
Inquiry-based learning involves developing and nurturing relationships and negotiating aspects of the working relationship and projects; our students are immersed in active learning. They build resilience, and the ability to think outside the box, develop independence, communicate with those outside their field, as well as appreciate the skills of other disciplines.
This is the future of learning: Collaborate, communicate, innovate.