Engineering Visions Intensive Programme

I was recently very glad to have been invited as a teacher to a great summer school in Switzerland. I got three days to work with some amazing students, meet other teachers and test myself. I also got to enjoy a lovely weekend in the Alps. Here are some details.

I taught two and a half days in a programme focused on “engineering visions”. The idea was simple – student from different countries are divided into groups and given a rather general theme to think about. They then develop their general vision. When they finally meet in Switzerland, they have two weeks to refine the vision and deliver a report, a presentation and a poster. Sounds easy and sounds like my design competence could come in handy, especially when a user perspective on the vision is required. Well, it wasn’t that easy.

Firstly, it turned out that all the students were at Bachelor’s level and taking an engineering degree. This is all fine, but given that I usually teach in Master’s programme, it got me thinking. I had to immediately forget all kinds of advanced science-based evidencing I thought of and concentrate making the visions concise and attractive to those attending the final presentations. The second issue was that I entered the programme when in its very middle, on a Friday afternoon. The students were quite sleepy to put it lightly.

Seeing the class was hardly responding to me talking, I decided to forget the pre-planned schedule for the rest of the day and start getting to know the people and the projects. I begun with some warm-up exercises and tried to get them talk. Slowly, but steadily, people started expressing their views and concerns and I decided to split the class into subgroups dependent on needs.

And the needs were quite varied. There were product-oriented groups that were eager to prototype, but I also saw daydreamers immersed in science-fuelled visions of an ideal future. So how do you convince dreamers that their visions need to be communicated to a wider audience to be valuable? Well, I had them tell stories of a better world. And it worked.

After all, despite the initial dissatisfaction with “that design thinking thing”, all groups managed to build a meaningful prototype and tell a convincing story about their vision. Highlights include a cardboard car dashboard with changing landscapes behind the windshield, a humanoid robot with scary voice and Dolan’s face and the biggest concept map matrix I’ve ever seen.

I certainly did not teach these guys design or problem-finding, but it seems that some classical design tools can be useful in many weird ways. I think that, at least, they will consider considering the user perspective in their many exciting engineering endeavours.

Here’s some photos of the amazing people I met in Buchs and some of their creations.
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