Learnings from the field
The ENLIGHT European University alliance has spearheaded design and implementation of different models of Challenge-based Education courses over the last years. These courses were jointly organised by two or more universities within the network foregrounding globally relevant themes and interdisciplinarity.
To improve effectiveness and sustainability of course design and implementation, we conducted an extensive study with interviews of 32 involved academics, educational developers and external stakeholders, along with analyses of course documents. The research report, authored by Dr Myriame Ali-oualla and Laurie François of University of Bordeaux, aimed to capture lessons learnt from the implementation of 11 different courses.
In the following article, we share highlights of this report that reflect our experiences with CBE along with offering examples of successes and recommendations that could further enhance implementation of CBE and other active teaching methodologies in ENLIGHT courses.
Forging Partnerships: The building blocks of CBE
Challenge-based Education (CBE) calls for building close ties with non-academic stakeholders for practical learning. Integrating real-world insights keep students motivated and enables them to devise and implement relevant solutions.
“In our case, the challenges come from NGOs or some health organizations. […] the students learn about the topic, how to work in groups, and creativity. […] they should apply some kind of game design features in the solution. The most typical challenge is physical activity; but there are others like managing your diabetes, vaccination hesitancy, sleeping problems, preparing for surgery…They have to be related into attitudes, behaviours or knowledge.” Academic, Innovation games
The academic coordinator plays a crucial role in aligning relevant expertise with the curricular material. However, despite best efforts of course designers, we observed that time constraints do hinder effective external partner engagement, risking rushed execution over comprehensive development.
Fostering student diversity to deepen student engagement
In other learnings, we realised that a diverse student body significantly enhanced learning. By introducing varied perspectives and fostering comparisons of local issues, particularly when tied to students' lives, students learn to become challenge owners and users, encouraging self-reflection and draws them deeper into the learning process. This in turn also benefits university specific research and offers opportunities to engage students in locally relevant issues.
“We are pushed out of our comfort zone and challenged to reflect on complex problems with students from very different disciplines and backgrounds. Very enriching personally.” Student, Urban Mining
Nuts and bolts of the Course Design
A typical ENLIGHT CBE course design comprises of an online component and an onsite week. Depending on several organizational factors, the onsite week could be held at the start, middle or end of the course.
It was observed that the virtual component's design focussed mainly on theoretical aspects, while the onsite week focussed on challenge exploration. Educational developers, academic coordinators, and coaches agreed unanimously that students were far more engaged during onsite weeks as compared to online learning.
“We were talking about water management in Bordeaux, and how they collect rainwater and what are the solutions to use. It was really interesting to see all the solutions that exist in Bordeaux, and it really inspired us about our subject. I think the immersive week is really an important week.” Student, Urban Mines
“We are doing this in very hands-on way, with post-its, framework, storytelling, rapid prototyping and testing. That’s a very important aspect of today’s learning, we should be able to make things tangible and testable in a very hands-on way to understand what the implication of theory are.“ Academic, AI for non-IT students
The transitions between online and onsite weeks posed challenges for both teachers and students. The clearly separated phases, sometimes, created gaps in cohesion between course content and student challenges for academics offering subject matter expertise to students. This discrepancy also may have impacted motivation and engagement levels of students.
"Some students wonder why this lecture is proposed? [...] do take the time to interview the lecturer." Educational developer, Interdisciplinary Study of the Climate Neutral City.
In certain cases, students did not have a full understanding of this newer mode of learning, and this posed as a psychological hurdle and pushed teachers to charter new territories for assessing “softer” skills.
With these challenges in the backdrop, and based on on-ground experiences of students and teachers, we recommend the following suggestions for design of future CBE courses: