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These competencies are explicitly fostered and described in Competence View.
These competencies are fostered in this course but are not explicitly described in Competence View. Please contact the responsible person for further information. Competencies in grey are fostered in this course but are generally not the focus of Competence View, which focusses on cross-disciplinary competencies.

The focus of the Æther teaching format is the promotion of writing skills. In the Æther seminar, students slip into the role of researchers, authors and editors, who together follow the path from the initial idea to the finished article. In this way, social, cognitive-reflexive and scientific-communicative skills are promoted.

The Æther research and writing workshop was developed as a new, project-based teaching format in 2017–2018, with students under the tutelage of the Chair for Science Studies (D-GESS). The focus of the seminar course is the fostering of writing skills. Supported by individual mentoring and mutual peer feedback, the students learn to independently tap into complex social issues in the areas of science, technology and society, critically reflect on these issues in their writing and communicate them to a wider audience. The ability to foster such media and communication competencies is today more important than ever. Whether you communicate via social media, blog articles or the more traditional magazine articles, writing is no longer the sole profession of professional academic writers. The audience-appropriate communication of research content and results is a key task of academic research that needs to be learned. It is therefore important that students learn how to write to and for the public at an early stage. Within the ETH – and, to our knowledge, outside of the ETH – there are no comparable courses that focus in the same way on learning the ability to reflect critically as well as on written communication and media competencies.
The “research and writing workshop” principle pursued by Æther is based on the assumption that complex lesson content can be imparted to the students efficiently and effectively through project and team work that is as “practical” and “hands-on” as possible. The best way for students to gain writing skills is by writing themselves and by providing feedback on texts written by other students. In the Æther seminars, the students take on the roles of researchers, authors and editors, and together take part in the long and drawn-out writing process – from the initial development of specific research topics and questions, the writing of the first draft and the peer reviews all the way to the publishing of the finished article online and/or in print. The process – “from the idea to the product” – is supervised and moderated at all times by the lecturers and the group by means of specially developed feedback exercises. The meaning, purpose and limits of relevant theoretical and intellectual approaches, for example, become more accessible – one of the basic assumptions of Æther – when they are directly confronted with specific research topics. Conversely, the group work calls for and supports the students’ achievement of a common goal – publication – important social and cognitive-reflection competencies that are difficult to communicate “head-on”: How do I provide constructive criticism? Is my argument plausible/coherent? Why is it important? How can I better reach my target audience? etc. Above all, the students appreciate the intensive mentoring and the mutual feedback given and received on specific draft texts. In contrast with other types of seminar courses, the “practical benefits” are immediately obvious. The positive effect of co-teaching is emphasised by the lecturers, as a great deal of work is required to mentor the students.

The best way for students to gain writing skills is by writing themselves and by providing feedback on texts written by other students.
Dr. Nils Güttler

In order to pass on the specific teaching methodology and practice employed in the Æther course, a special didactic “tool kit” has been developed. This tool kit is made up of a collection of writing and feedback exercises, some of which are from the fields of ethnology and anthropology and modify the elements of the flipped classroom and design thinking to fit the specific ETH context. For example, one of these exercises consists of testing out a topic proposed by a student for various issues and questions, while another exercise involves an introduction written by one person being expanded upon by different people in order to show how to overcome writer’s block. The tool kit is divided among the lecturers and is thus constantly being developed. As the previous instalments of the Æther course have shown in the D-GESS and D-ARCH departments as well as at the University of Zurich, the principle of the “research and writing workshop” can in this way be transferred to other disciplines and areas of study without any problems. In so doing, we not only provide the requisite technical infrastructure, but are also on hand to provide advice and help with the seminars. The feedback we have received from within and outside the ETH – the Æther project has to date been presented at events at the Humboldt University of Berlin, the University of Zurich, the EPFL and the University of Lucerne – shows that academic writing for a wider audience is recognised as an attractive option and an important aspect of academic teaching. A blog is currently being set up as a lower-threshold variant of Æther in which students can publish short essays that are developed in the seminars from the “knowledge” area of D-GESS. In these seminars, individual components of the tool kit developed for Æther are applied. The tool kit and Æther are generally open to all lecturers. Should you have any specific ideas for topics, please contact the responsible seminar organisers.

Course Description

Æther: A writing and research workshop
The teaching format Æther is a inter-departmental research and writing workshop, which culminates in a student publication (see website). Æther links hybrid publication (online/print) with project based teaching. Teams of students research a given problem from multiple perspectives. The collaborative work on a common goal - the publication - fosters social and cognitive-reflective competencies as well as competencies in science communication.
The students are able to connect research, writing and science communication.
They are able to work on their own texts to create publishable articles.
851-0157-81L 851-0157-86L 851-0157-93L 851-0158-11L 052-1182-19L 851-0158-12L 851-0101-82L
block seminar (full year course)
max. 50
D-GESS and SiP
block seminar
Teaching Power:
graded semester performance

Screencast of an Æther publication