Empowering student Engagement, Skills and Success through Project-Based Learning

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The D-ITET Center for Project-Based Learning integrates hands-on projects into students' academic journeys, emphasizing interdisciplinary collaboration and skill development. The teaching mode progresses through three stages: building a theoretical foundation with active learning, fostering collaboration through small-team projects, and confronting real-world complexity in large team projects. Feedback is integral, with weekly meetings and lab work, ensuring continuous support.

Teaching mode

The D-ITET center for project-based learning aims to promote activities that involve projects early in students› educational journeys, starting from bachelor’s courses, including both core courses and project- based seminars. This approach extends to master’s courses and culminates in master’s theses, gradually increasing the complexity of projects in alignment with students› level of experience. The center’s approach is rooted in evidence-based practices, fostering the development of essential skills. Moreover, it places a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary projects, encouraging students to collaborate and address real-world problems throughout their academic journey, including their courses, theses, and interdisciplinary team projects.

The center embraces interdisciplinary collaboration to foster deeper student engagement and address the criteria for evaluation. Through flagship projects that unite students from diverse backgrounds, the center creates an enriching learning environment where students can combine their unique skills and perspectives to tackle complex problems to develop sustainable technologies. This collaborative approach promotes innovativeness by encouraging new forms of knowledge transfer, interaction, and independent learning and prepares students to become versatile professionals capable of tackling real-world challenges and driving positive change in the world.

Active learning is at the core of the Center for Project-Based Learning. We designed a progressive transition towards autonomous active learning as follows:

Stage 1: Building a Strong Theoretical Foundation with Active Learning

The initial stage of our education model focuses on providing students with a solid theoretical foundation through Bachelor courses. These courses impart fundamental knowledge in various engineering disciplines, ensuring students grasp the principles and concepts that form the basis of their future projects. However, we believe that theoretical understanding alone is insufficient. During these courses, students solve exercises and conduct a small application project that takes place over few weeks. The activities allow an active learning of theoretical concepts through inquiry-based learning methods.

Stage 2: Cultivating Collaboration and collaborative active learning

As students’ progress in their education, they enter the second stage, which revolves around collaborative small-team projects during their bachelor thesis and semester projects. These projects are specifically designed to foster teamwork, communication, and project management skills. Working in teams, students tackle engineering challenges that require the integration of knowledge from various disciplines. This stage not only enhances their technical expertise but also cultivates their ability to collaborate effectively and think critically as a team.

Stage 3: Confronting Real-World Complexity through Flagship Team Projects (Autonomous active learning)

The final stage of our education model immerses students in large team projects that simulate complex real-world engineering scenarios. By this stage, students have acquired a solid theoretical foundation, practical experience, and the ability to work collaboratively. Large team projects expose students to significant challenges, such as budget constraints, time management, and interdisciplinary coordination. This stage prepares students to tackle the complexities and uncertainties they may encounter in their future engineering careers.

Implementation of the project-based learning approach

How do students receive feedback?

In our approach, we ensure that students receive feedback through various channels. For our regular courses, students have the opportunity to engage in at least 2 hours of lab work per week, during which both the main lecturer and teaching assistants (TAs) provide support and guidance for their projects. For project-based courses, there are weekly meetings, and students can request on-demand support as needed.

Involvement and active participation of students

Active student involvement is a cornerstone of our approach, and we encourage it through various means. This includes participatory design workshops, participation in international competitions (when projects align with such competitions), and Hackathons. Continuous feedback is fostered through reflective journals maintained by students, both in their projects and regular courses.

Communication (channels student-lecturer, student-student, lecturer-lecturer)

Effective communication is vital within our learning environment, and we facilitate it through multiple channels. Student-lecturer communication occurs through weekly meetings and labs, as well as via communication platforms like Slack and Moodle. TAs and teachers also provide support during this process. Occasionally, students working on similar projects are grouped together for weekly meetings, allowing them to share challenges and insights.

Student-student communication is encouraged through group work and flagship projects that involve collaboration among several students. Additionally, we provide Slack channels and shared rooms or desks to facilitate interaction. Students with similar projects can also share contact information for better cooperation.

Lecturer-lecturer communication is facilitated through various meetings, such as monthly PBL senior meetings discussing our survey and other teaching activities, and weekly staff meetings, which include TA meetings. There are also bi-weekly meetings between the head of PBL and lecturers to ensure effective coordination.

Ways that students receive support

To support students effectively, we offer weekly meetings and maintain an open and accessible line of communication with instructors and supervisors. Moreover PBL has a several students labs at D-ITET, Innovation park where students laboratory and work spaces are provided.


In terms of assessment, our approach varies depending on the type of course or project. For bachelor’s, semester, and master projects, we follow the ITET assessment sheet. Projects and seminar courses are assessed based on final presentations, active participation, and engagement. In the Machine Learning on Microcontroller course, the projects themselves serve as the exam. In the Embedded Systems course, assessment is self-done by students, who check the proposed solution. We make sure to communicate the assessment method clearly to our students.


Learning Hardware Programming Remotely

The effectiveness of our project-based learning initiatives at the Center for Project-Based Learning is further enhanced by the implementation of a remote platform designed to facilitate student learning and programming of microcontrollers from the comfort of their own homes, supported by ETH with the FORESEE project. This innovative approach has proven highly effective in promoting continuous engagement and support throughout the learning journey. By providing students with access to the remote platform, we enable them to delve into practical hands-on experiences with microcontrollers, even when physical access to the lab is limited. Through interactive modules, instructional materials, and virtual tools, students gain a comprehensive understanding of microcontroller programming and its applications. The remote platform not only empowers students to actively participate in their learning but also allows us, as teachers, to closely monitor their progress and provide timely feedback and guidance. We can track their learning curve, identify areas where additional support may be required, and offer personalized assistance to ensure effective learning outcomes. Moreover, the remote platform fosters a sense of autonomy and independent learning, as students can explore and experiment with microcontroller programming at their own pace and convenience. This flexibility enhances their engagement and motivation, leading to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Solidifying Theoretical Knowledge Through Practical Applications: The project-based learning approach excels in bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. It offers students a hands-on experience that reinforces their understanding of academic concepts. This not only enhances comprehension but also equips students with valuable skills they can apply in real-world scenarios.

Progressive Introduction to PBL: We believe in a gradual and progressive introduction to project- based learning (PBL). Our three-stage education model starts with bachelor courses, providing students with a strong foundation in their field of study. As they progress, they engage in collaborative small-team projects and eventually tackle flagship projects. This staged approach ensures that students build the necessary skills and confidence to excel in PBL over time and it can be slowly implemented in single bachelor courses that have a sequence in a bachelor theiss and then in advanced courses or masther thesis.

Multidisciplinarity of Projects: One of the key strengths of our project-based learning model is the emphasis on multidisciplinary projects. By working on projects that span multiple disciplines, students gain exposure to diverse perspectives and problem-solving approaches. This prepares them to address complex, real-world challenges that often require interdisciplinary solutions.

No Selection Based on Background or Academic Achievement: Inclusivity is at the heart of our project-based learning philosophy. We do not select students based on their background or academic achievements. Instead, we welcome students from diverse department backgrounds, fostering a rich learning environment where everyone has the opportunity to contribute and learn from each other. This approach promotes equity and ensures that all students can benefit from the transformative power of project-based learning.

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